Sunday, February 5, 2017

Bird’s Eye View

American goldfinch
Sometimes we look at our yard from a neighbor’s perspective – is it neat and attractive? When you’re a nature lover, you might consider a different view point. How about from an insect’s perspective or a bird’s?

What are insects and birds looking for when they come by? We’ll have to imagine that we are such a creature, but it won’t take much imagination actually. We know that birds and insects need the essentials: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. The important thing to understand that across the thousands of different types that pass through our yard, their needs vary quite a bit.

Food and Water

A low estimate of the number of bird species that pass through my yard would be 50. Some of them are frugivores, some are granivores, hummingbirds are nectivores, and then many of them are insectivores (or need insects for their chicks). They all don’t eat the same thing.

Ambush bug eats skipper
The number of insect species is even higher. Some of them are herbivores (eating plants: leaves, pollen, or nectar) while others are carnivores (eating other insects).

Within those two broad categories, insects are often specialists on certain plants (think monarch butterfly caterpillars eating milkweed, Asclepias sp.) or certain prey. For example, a small insect can eat a mosquito but it takes a larger one to eat a fly.

Tiger swallowtail nectars on Joe pye weed

In addition to birds and insects, of course, we also have lizards, turtles, and other critters and they have needs too. When you’re looking at your yard, do you have enough diversity to provide for the creatures that are thinking about living/eating there?


Shelter needs are every bit as varied as food needs. There are the obvious bird considerations: nest boxes, dense shrubs, tall trees. Birds that are winter residents need thick vegetation during cold nights.

Critters need a place to go too when they are resting. They will hide out on all types of plants: leafy perennials, shrubs, and trees.

Insects will also take shelter in dead leaves, under loose bark, and in the soil. If a mowed lawn is our predominant vegetation, how helpful is that to insects?

Place to raise their young

Some critters actively manage their young (like birds) while others lay eggs and leave. Some (like bees) lay eggs with provisions and leave.

A spider has created an egg mass that will hatch after she dies
(the anole safely exited the web later)

Birds build nests in varied places: some nest on the ground, in brush, and in the cavities of dead and living trees. Eastern phoebes will make nests on manmade ledges (like my security lights). During active bird nesting season you can help by watching out for predators. We lost a whole nest of baby bluebirds because a snake got into the nest box and ate them. We now have a snake guard on that box.

A robin's nest in the open

So if you’re interested in attracting wildlife, look at your yard from a critter’s point of view. Maybe that tidy sweep of grass won’t look so good after all!

Some of my previous posts on supporting birds and insects:

Natural Bird Food
Native Shrubs for Birds
Black Cherry - A Perfect Plant for Birds
Native Birds Like Native Plants
Supporting Insect Herbivores
Everyday Nature

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