For the Birds: Birds need bugs

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Common Yellow-throat with caterpillar
Photo by Maggie Bond

By Christine Southwick

Birds Need Bugs:

Bugs are high in protein—just what migrating birds and developing nestlings need.

An Anna’s Hummingbird mother flies to her miniature nest and gently places her long bill into her nestling’s throat and delivers a meal of aphids, white flies, gnats, even tiny spiders.

Violet-green Swallow nestling with fresh bug
Photo by John Riegsecker
Nighthawks and Violet –green Swallow parents catch mosquitoes on the wing which their nestling eagerly snatch.

Blue Bird mothers bring tent caterpillars to their nestlings.

Local chickadees, nuthatches, and Brown Creepers are always on search and destroy missions, finding bug eggs and larvae on stems, leaves and evergreen needles, and devouring them before they harm our plants.

Yellow Warbler with caterpillar
Photo by Doug Parrott
White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Bewick’s Wrens, and Oregon Juncos feed their babies insects, grubs, caterpillars, and spiders.

Our local Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, and Red-breasted Sapsuckers feed their nestlings bugs found within tree trunks and braches. Flickers add ants to their menu.

New research on the cause of declines of city birds, especially Nighthawks and most sparrows, points to the lack of enough insects in cities due to pesticide usage, forcing breeding birds to nest elsewhere in order to feed their young.
bug meal for fledgling Oregon Junco
Photo by Mick Thompson

So how can you help the birds?

First, stop using pesticides.  Pesticides kill bugs we don’t like, but they also poison birds that eat the bugs, pollinating bees and butterflies that land on the sprayed plants, and family pets.  In our rainy climate, pesticides get washed into our local creeks, streams, lakes and finally into the Sound, disabling and killing fish and aquatic life all along the way.                                              

If you are having trouble with bugs, spray them off with water.  Caterpillars won’t kill deciduous trees—the trees just grow more leaves. Migrating birds thrive on the extra boost of protein in caterpillars.

Plant native shrubs and trees with berries.  Birds love native berries and will eat them before eating your berry crops. Native plants support more native birds, helping to make up for some of the birds’ lost habitat; the number one cause of bird deaths.

Add nest boxes. Wild Birds Unlimited, or Audubon can help you find ones properly made for the birds you want.

Add feeders and clean water (change weekly), and you can register your backyard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Birds, and all our necessary pollinators will thank you, and you will have the joy of hearing birds in your yard, and watching their next generation grow.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she is sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.

For previous For the Birds columns, click on the link under the Features section on the main webpage.


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