Purple Martin Panhandlers in Western PA
Duke Snyder
Purple Martin Preservation Alliance
Butler, PA

            Nearly every year the Purple Martins returning to Western Pennsylvania encounter cold weather.  Giving them supplemental feedings is necessary for their survival at such times.  During cold or rainy weather the Purple Martins at my site have become conditioned and expect food on a regular basis.  Usually when I walk into the front yard, Iím ready to toss them meal worms, crickets or scrambled eggs.  Anywhere from 4 to 60 martins circle me as I toss them food.  After tossing I quickly fill the bed and breakfast trays with remaining food which they eagerly accept. 

            One cold spring morning I was behind schedule and the Purple Martins were not first on my priority list.  Walking out the driveway to mail letters approximately 15 martins flew towards me expecting food to be tossed into the air, but this particular morning I did not have food ready.  The martins followed me 150 feet to the mail box just out of arms way and back to my house.  One ASY (After Second Year) male continued to follow me for another 100 feet behind my house.  He was singing to me, just out of arms way and followed me back to the house.  Of course, within a few minutes the Purple Martins were receiving their usual handout from me.  Since my retirement, the Purple Martins are high on my priority list and it is very gratifying and enjoyable to help them out during bad weather.

             Another unusual experience worth mentioning occurred at the Armstrong County, Gastown, Pennsylvania site.  There were 40 plus breeding purple martin pairs at this site.  During this cold weather, I filled the trays with scrambled eggs beginning at 5 a.m. and again at 1 p.m.  Being a turkey hunter I spend much time near this area in May.   Daily I would stop nearby to visit, Carl, my brother-in-law and he would scramble more eggs for my 1 p.m. Purple Martin feeding schedule.    One particular cold afternoon I stopped to visit Gastown horse stable owner Richard Wood.  We talked and talked for about 20 minutes and feeding the purple martins was not first on my priority list. Suddenly 30 purple martins flew from their housing and gourds from 100 yards away.  Some landed on the roof of the horse barn and others landed on the white fence about 15 feet away from me and my truck.  Richardís comment was ďDuke why donít you just take the birds home with you?Ē  Apparently the purple martins recognized my truck and were hungry. 

            When warmer weather returned, the Purple Martins went back to their normal feeding patterns and paid no attention to me.

[Editors Note: Duke is a first class landlord and all-around great guy. He generously donates much of his time to martin conservation efforts in western PA! Duke is also the inventor of the starling Excluder entrance hole and the developer of the Excluder Gourd. He manages or helps to manage several colonies in western PA and is a huge asset to our Purple Martin recovery efforts.]