Identifying Backyard Birds

This guide to identifying backyard birds will help you learn which birds are visiting your yard and which ones are helpful. 

  • Hummingbirds eat aphids off of leaves and flowers, as well as gnats and fruit flies.

  • Wrens will search every corner of your garden to find enough insects to feed them and their families. They can have seven or eight chicks at a time.

  • Bluebirds love to eat grasshoppers. They can spot them from up to 100 feet away.

  • Red-Winged Blackbirds eat mostly insects during the summer months.

  • White-Throated Sparrows find insects in low-lying plants, like many of those in your vegetable garden.

Most of us concentrate more on keeping wildlife out of our vegetable gardens than on inviting it in. When we think of birds in our gardens, we cringe at the images that come to mind: tomatoes pecked to shreds, blueberries and cherries vanishing on the wing or young tender sweet corn plants nibbled back to the ground. We put up scarecrows, pie plates, bird netting, yards of Mylar ribbon and owl-eye balloons by the dozen. Some of us may even turn a blind eye when our pet kitties go on a backyard bird safari. At the end of the day, we breathe a sigh of relief because we have banished those pesky birds from our beloved gardens.

Most birds don't eat your garden produce. Many backyard birds feed almost exclusively on insects, especially during the spring and summer. During these months, while your garden is in full swing, many birds are busy rearing their young. That means that they need lots of protein to feed themselves and their growing families. They get the nutrition that they need from insects. In fact, some of their favorite insects (beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, grubs and aphids) are among the most destructive insect pests in your garden.

Decide which insect-eating birds you want in your garden and get them to move in. Since many birds have very particular likes and dislikes, you can shape your garden to attract or discourage specific birds. All you need to do is start identifying backyard birds. 

Say you want to attract bluebirds to your garden. About 70% of their diet (and an even higher percentage in spring and early summer) is made up of insects, usually ground-dwelling ones like grasshoppers.

Bluebirds prefer to hunt in open areas, like the one that most likely surrounds your vegetable garden. They like to have low perches from which they can survey the immediate area and pounce on their prey. This is known by bird aficionados as drop foraging. A tomato trellis or garden fence fits the bill for that.

Now that you've got your bluebird foraging ground squared away, you will also need to provide them with a home. Bluebird houses need to be perfectly sized for bluebirds. More specifically, the opening to the house needs to be big enough to accommodate a bluebird but too small for the starlings and other birds who love to steal bluebird homes. Making sure that your bluebird house doesn't have any perches on it can also help to discourage this home wrecking. Once you have your bluebird house, fasten it to a post near your garden and congratulate yourself on giving your garden helper a good place to live.

Other insect-eating backyard birds that you might want to invite into your vegetable garden include swallows (their diet is often 100% insects), warblers, flycatchers, cardinals (they eat beetles, grasshoppers and aphids) and hummingbirds. Even crows eat their fair share of insects, so don't shudder with rage when you see them in your garden. They're probably eating a grasshopper.

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