Want More Birds? Let Them Control Insects

Red-winged Blackbird with Insect
Red-winged Blackbird Eating an Insect; Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel


To keep your garden and yard safe for birds and provide the food they need, don’t use pesticides! A healthy garden is an ecosystem that is host to a lot of different insects from butterflies and caterpillars to spiders, aphids, and even mosquitos. All these insects are food that birds need and they make a native plant meadow or garden especially effective at attracting birds. Many birds are insectivores and have voracious appetites for insects, making them extremely effective at keeping insect populations down. As an example, a Barn Swallow weighing just over a half ounce can consume 60 insects each hour, or 850 each day, meaning about 25,000 fewer insects per month in your yard! All this payoff with no chemicals, no toxins – just birds with a natural appetite for gobbling insects. 


All those swallows you see sweeping over a field, warblers feasting under leaves, the kingbirds and blackbirds that perch in the middle of a meadow, woodpeckers and creepers climbing up your trees, are hard at work keeping insects under control on your property. If pesticides are used, there is a reduced amount of food available for the birds as the pesticides are designed to eliminate them. And those insects the birds do find often already contain toxins that may build up in the bird’s body and cause fatalities. This is especially important to remember during nesting season as 96% of all terrestrial birds feed insects to their chicks. And finding enough insects to keep their chicks growing and healthy requires a lot of effort even when no pesticides are in their feeding area. Using pesticides when birds are nesting can dramatically lower or eliminate the chick’s food sources and cause starvation of the young or toxic fatalities.


Insects, in general, are disappearing at an alarming rate from the planet. This is not good news for the many creatures like birds, bats, reptiles, etc, that rely upon them for sustenance. Plus, insects like bees and other bugs pollinate plants for our food and flowers. So, the use of any pesticides should not be taken lightly. If you are considering using pesticides to eliminate insects, first ask yourself how bad is this issue really? And if it’s a critical infestation of non-beneficial bugs, consider if it’s possible to remove the infected plants or branches rather than spray a pesticide to “fix” the problem?


A note on organic pesticides – they may be less toxic to the environment in general, but they also do what chemical pesticides do – kill insects. So, using organic pesticides still eliminates the food of the birds you are looking to attract and has a similar effect on their welfare, and that of the beneficial insects you want, as chemical pesticides.


Successful gardening and landscaping with native plants requires an understanding that a healthy garden should have a robust population of beneficial insects. These same insects pollinate the plants and feed the birds that visit the garden. These birds then control the “bad bugs” that don’t belong there. And this makes for a thriving garden which will attract a lot more birds and is safer for all of us!


Check out this article on the importance of insects in Smithsonian Magazine.