Birds that Help Control Garden Pests

Emily White
2012-01-22

Birds That Help Control Garden Pests
By Emily White, Featherfields
Help moderate garden pests naturally in your yard by attracting bug-eating birds. During the late spring and summer months, insects make up the great majority of many birdsí diets. The trick to enticing these birds to your property is to plant appropriate types of native cover that provide insect- and bird-attracting natural foods--leaves, fruit, pollen and nectar--to sustain both adults and their insect-dependent nestlings. The most important thing to do to attract birds to your yard is to provide an enticing habitat, not just a nest box. Birds choose a nest site based on its surrounding habitat.
Along with native vegetation, offer birds a water source and a few different nesting sites: brush piles, ledges, nest boxes, shrubs and various types of trees--including dead tree limbs and trunks.
Of course, birds will not completely rid your yard of insects, and even if they could, you wouldn't want them to do so. Some insects are important for a healthy garden, and birds do not discriminate between destructive and beneficial bugs. But they can help keep insect populations in your neighbourhood at a stable, balanced level, benefiting both you and your neighbours. Subsequently, you'll have a nicer garden to show for it throughout the summer.
Which bug-eating birds are the best ones to attract to your yard? Here are a few species that can be valuable allies in your efforts to sustain a vibrant garden.
Downy Woodpecker: Downy woodpeckers readily visit backyards. Their diet consists mainly of insects, though they also feed on sap, berries, seeds, and of course they will take advantage of offerings of suet (even in the summer!), sunflower seed, and peanuts. The birds excavate nesting sites in dead trees and stumps, which are later used by other birds. They prefer deciduous trees such as aspen and willow, and may eat the berries of dogwood, mountain ash, serviceberry, Virginia creeper and poison ivy. Others: Hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, as well as Flickers.
House Wren: Regular backyard visitors, house wrens have diets that consist almost exclusively of insects and spiders. Not very fussy about sites, these birds may nest in nest boxes, mailboxes, building crevices--even in pockets of hanging laundry. Include low-lying shrubs or brush piles in your yard--sources for cover, nesting materials and food. Other: Carolina wren.
Baltimore Oriole: Colourful migrants that readily visit backyards, Baltimore orioles eat insects, fruit and nectar. They nest in hanging pouches in deciduous trees. Plant blackberry, serviceberry and cherry for food, as well as elm, sycamore, chestnut and other shade trees as nesting spots.
Chipping Sparrow: Well-adapted to various landscapes, chipping sparrows are common throughout backyards in most of North America. They eat insects and seeds from the ground, shrubs and trees. They also visit feeders containing millet or nyjer seed. These common birds tend to nest in evergreens, making nests out of grasses, weeds, roots and hair. Attract them with pines, spruce, arborvitae and yew.
These birds, of course, are not alone in consuming backyard pests. Many other species--such as the northern cardinal, black-capped chickadee, purple martin, and eastern bluebird--eat insects or feed them to their young during the summer. Yet as summer winds down, your efforts to attract birds shouldn't come to a halt. The foods you provide in your yard throughout the year will encourage these songsters to visit again. As a result, the birds may return and combat a new generation of insects the next year.

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