For years, bird enthusiasts have grown accustomed to hearing that Purple Martins are capable of eating “2,000 mosquitoes a day.” This claim has been made primarily by bird house vendors, who often spread it in an effort to bolster sales of Purple Martin houses. A description from Wild Birds Forever, an online nature store, makes the usual boast.
Martins are beautiful, graceful, clean, interesting and beneficial birds. Did we tell you a single purple martin can eat thousands of mosquitoes in one day?
Although Purple Martins are voracious consumers of winged insects, they rarely, if ever, eat mosquitoes. In fact, analyses of their stomach contents have shown that mosquitoes make up as little as 3% of their diet.
Why the Myth
According to a report by the Purple Martin Conservation Association, the origin of the confusion was a paper authored by J.L. Wade in 1966. When writing about the Purple Martin’s rapid metabolism, Wade made the assumption that the bird must consume its weight in mosquitoes on a daily basis to sustain itself.
Though he found no evidence of this from examining the stomach contents of Purple Martins, he suggested that because digestion of soft-shelled insects is almost instantaneous, that remnants of mosquitoes would not remain. Although mosquitoes are digested quickly, hard parts, such as the wings and legs, would be intact and findable in stomach contents or feces. It was because of this poor scientific assumption that a myth was born and passed on for years to come.