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How to Bring More Birds to Your Garden By Attracting Their Food Sources

Maren gardens in PA, specializing in earth-friendly, unconventional, creative, joyful artistry. She works for eco & climate health.

A Songbird Worth Attracting

The glorious and complex songs of the Carolina wren can come to your yard. Put in plants that the wren's favorite bugs like to eat.

The glorious and complex songs of the Carolina wren can come to your yard. Put in plants that the wren's favorite bugs like to eat.

You Need to Know: Birds Eat Bugs

Not all birds are vegetarians (herbivores.)

Some are omnivores, eating both seeds and insects.

Those bird species thriving on "meaty" meals have a range of food preferences. Some feast on the eggs or caterpillars of various insects, beetles, and bugs. Others consume only the adult bugs, such as adult flies, butterflies, or gnats.

Below is a partial list of song birds and the bugs they like to eat.

Cardinals Are Great Singers

Cardinals are sources of beauty and lovely songs. Feed them and they will come.

Cardinals are sources of beauty and lovely songs. Feed them and they will come.

Common Bug Choices for Song Birds

SpeciesSpecifically:

Hummingbirds

 

Orioles

Orchard, Baltimore

Cowbirds

 

Blackbirds

Red-winged, Rusty, Brewer's

Tanagers

Summer, Scarlet

Viroes

White-eyed, Red-eyed, Philadelphia, Warbling, Blue-headed, Yellow-throated

Robins

 

Blue jays

 

Cuckoos

 

Chickadees

Carolina, Black-capped

Swallows

Tree, Bank, Cliff, Barn, Rough-winged

Flycatchers

Yellow-bellied, Great-crested, Eastern Phoebe, Least, Willow, Alder, Acadian

White-tipped Dove

 

Thrushes

Wood, Gray-checked, Swainson's Hermit, Bicknell's

Kinglets

Golden-crowned, Ruby-crowned

Purple Martins

 

Tufted Titmouse

 

Eastern Bluebirds

 

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

 

Chimney Swifts

 

Chuck Wills Widows

 

Whip Poor Wills

 

Eastern Wood Peewees

 

Veerys

 

Nuthatches

 

Mockingbirds

 

Brown Thrasher

 

American Pipit

 

Meadowlark

 

House Sparrow

 

Attract These Yummy Bugs

Most "bird food" bugs are plant eaters and, furthermore, have a very limited diet.

Some bug species eat a few types of plants.

Others are limited to just a SINGLE plant for food. An example of the latter is the monarch butterfly which can eat only milkweed plants.

However, a plant or a tree can be the perfect shelter or buffet for several or even hundreds of different little critters, bugs, mites, flies, insects and beings. These will then become food to the songbirds you enjoy having in your yard.

Revise Your Notion of Beauty For Plants

A few holes in a leaf are BEAUTIFUL because it means an insect had a small snack there.

A few holes in a leaf are BEAUTIFUL because it means an insect had a small snack there.

Trees and Bushes That Feed Butterflies And Moths

This table is excerpted from a larger table on page 147 of the excellent guide: Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas W. Tallamy.

Common NameNumber of Species Supported

Oak

534

Willow

456

Cherry, Plum

456

Birch

412

Poplar, Cottonwood

368

Crabapple

311

Blueberry, cranberry

288

Maple, Box Elder

285

Elm

213

Pine

203

Hickory

200

Black-Capped Chickadee

Provide a buffet for the songbirds you want.

Provide a buffet for the songbirds you want.

Why Native Plants Are Better "Bug Restaurants" Than Imported Plants

As plants and critters evolved together over time, Mother Nature worked things out beautifully.

Plants fed bugs.

But, before the bugs could eat enough to wipe out an entire plant species, birds ate some of those bugs.

But before the birds could wipe out an entire species of insect or beetle or bee, the predators of those birds controlled them.

There were checks and balances in nature.

Every “predator species” also has its own predators. So, we had a perfect system of native plants for native critters.

And, back at the beginning of the food web, the bugs prevented any one bush or tree from taking over the world.

Unfortunately, when humans started travelling around the world they brought exotic and beautiful flowers, bushes and trees from other countries. Our own bugs had not developed a taste for these newcomer plants and so the bug population DWINDLED from scarce food.

In the short perspective, perfectionist gardeners said, "Good riddance to bugs!"

However, in the long term, this is a very bad situation for gardens. Having fewer bugs on the earth can lead to at least two disasters.

One is fewer songbirds, due to fewer yummy bugs being happily fed by our garden plants..

The other is that these foreign plants are not being held in check, so they go on a growing rampage! (for example: kudzu, purple loosestrife, butterfly bush,...) They take over and crowd out those beautiful native plants.

So then, this results in even fewer bugs, even fewer birds, even fewer bigger predators and the collapse and disappearance of many species.

Eco-gardeners do not want this to happen.

Food producers do not want this to happen.

Even the United States military does not want this to happen!

Good Native Plants For The Mid-Atlantic

This table is excerpted from one of the indexes of the excellent guide: Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas W. Tallamy. It contains information by region of the lower 48 states of the USA.

TreesGround coversPerennials for Dry PlacesPerennials for Moist PlacesGrasses

Birches

Mayapple

New England aster

Bee balm

Broomsedge

Sassafras

Mountain stonecrop

Orange coneflower

Joe-Pye weed

Pennsylvania sedge

Black cherry

Common blue violet

Wild geranium

Rose mallow

River oats

Black walnut

Creeping phlox

Coral bells

Pink coreopsis

Bluestem

Songbird Bug Bible

Be Eco-Aware When You Choose Your Garden Plants

It is eco-friendly and “green” to plant the flowers, bushes and trees that attract the wee critters that birds eat.

Your yard can be just as lovely as those other ones with non-native species that sometimes become out-of-control "invasive" plants, crowding out your native bushes and flowers, and not contributing to the food chain.

This new way of thinking about gardening does not mean you will have a yard full of decimated plants. A healthy natural, native forest is not decimated. A minority of the leaves have nibble marks and the forest is filled with life and those wonderful chirps, croaks, songs, and taps that are music to the ears. Planting foods from the native web of life is the right thing to help the entire world. (That includes us humans.)

This new way of thinking views a few nibbles on leaves as delightful and joyous.

Sunflower Leaves

Are the leaves of this plant destroyed by a few bug nibbles?  Hardly! One barely notices them.

Are the leaves of this plant destroyed by a few bug nibbles? Hardly! One barely notices them.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Maren Elizabeth Morgan

Comments

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on July 16, 2015:

Dirt Farmer, good for you! Due to my change in thinking about my yard and plantings, I have planted milkweed seeds and native geranium plants. This book really turned my head around.

Poetryman6969, this book helped me finally understand why an eco-friend thought that little bug-munched holes in flower leaves are desirable. It IS a big attitude shift.

poetryman6969 on July 14, 2015:

Interesting thinking. I had never thought to actually do something for the bugs. Usually we just try to get rid of them.

Jill Spencer from United States on July 14, 2015:

A useful hub, Maren. Love the chart for the Mid-Atlantic. Such a handy way to present the information. I would love to grow Joe Pye weed but just don't have the seed. I'm going to have to stop and grab some from the side of the road! lol

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on June 19, 2015:

Dolores, I do the same thing with my coneheads. :-)

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 19, 2015:

One of my favorite plants for attracting birds are coneflowers. When the flowers poop out in Fall, I leave the seed heads on. Soon, goldfinch flit around the yard. Such beautiful birds!

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on June 12, 2015:

Thank you, Alicia. I resisted the concept of permitting bugs to chomp on my plants, but the book shown above has so much humor and research behind it, that I was converted!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 11, 2015:

This is a useful hub with an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing the information. We definitely need to re-establish balance in nature.

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