Fill Your Garden with Plants which Feed the Bugs Songbirds Like to Eat

The "Green" Look of Beauty for Plants

This is a plant which has given some sustenance to a bug.  See the holes in the leaf where an insect had a meal?
This is a plant which has given some sustenance to a bug. See the holes in the leaf where an insect had a meal? | Source

Birds Eat Bugs

Not all birds are vegetarians (herbivores.) Some are omnivores (meaning they will eat veggies and meat), eating both seeds and insects. Some bird species feast on the eggs or caterpillars of insects, beetles, and bugs. Others consume only the adult form of its prey, such as the adult fly, butterfly, or gnat. Below is a partial list of birds which look for bugs as part of their diet.

Common Birds which are Omnivores

 
 
 
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
 
 

Bugs and Plants

Most bugs are herbivores. Furthermore, most have a very limited diet. Some species eat only a handful of types of leaves and some are limited to just ONE 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 buffet for several or even hundreds of different little beings which then serve as "bird feed" to the songbirds we enjoy seeing.

Trees and Bushes That Feed Butterflies and Moths

Common Name
Number 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
 
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.

Why Native Plants are Better 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 population, 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 had prevented any one bush or tree from taking over the world.

Unfortunately, when humans started travelling they brought exotic and beautiful flowers, bushes and trees from other countries. Our own bugs had not developed a taste for these newcomers and so the bug population IS DWINDLING. In the short term, one might be tempted to say "Good riddance!" However, in the long term, this is a very bad situation. Fewer bugs can lead to at least two disasters: one is fewer songbirds. The other is that these foreign plants are not being held in check, so they go on a growing rampage! (Kudzu, purple loosestrife, butterfly bush,...) They take over and crowd out those beautiful native plants which do feed the bugs that feed the birds that feed the...you get the picture. SO then, it is even fewer bugs, even fewer birds, even fewer bigger predators and the collapse and disappearance of many species.

Good Native Plants for the Mid-Atlantic

Trees
Ground covers
Perennials for Dry Places
Perennials for Moist Places
Grasses
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
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.

Be Green in the Decorative Plants You Choose

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

Sunflower Leaves

Are the leaves of this plant destroyed by a few bug nibbles?  Hardly!
Are the leaves of this plant destroyed by a few bug nibbles? Hardly! | Source

Photos and text copyright 2015 Maren E. Morgan.

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Comments 7 comments

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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


Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 15 months ago from Pennsylvania Author

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!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 15 months ago from East Coast, United States

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 Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 15 months ago from Pennsylvania Author

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


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 14 months ago from Maryland

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


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 14 months ago

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


Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 14 months ago from Pennsylvania Author

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.

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