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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: Insect-loving birds

  • One early morning, I looked out my dining room window to see a new, all-red bird sitting on a nearby tree limb.
    Although I didn’t have my glasses on, it took several glances to confirm that the bird did not have the tell-tale tufted top notch of one of my regular garden residents. It was similar in color to a Missouri cardinal, only more strawberry red in color.
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  • One early morning, I looked out my dining room window to see a new, all-red bird sitting on a nearby tree limb.
    Although I didn’t have my glasses on, it took several glances to confirm that the bird did not have the tell-tale tufted top notch of one of my regular garden residents. It was similar in color to a Missouri cardinal, only more strawberry red in color.
    There was also a second new, orange-brown bird in a nest in a compact dwarf fruit tree next to the arbor at the entrance to my apiary.
    Although the tree is small, leaves effectively covered the nest but left enough of an opening so I could tell when Mom bird was home. She was more drab in color than the tomato red bird but similar in shape, so I took her to be the female.
    After a couple of weeks, I counted six speckled Robin-blue eggs in the nest. I tried not to walk by and disturb her so she could raise her young in relative peace.
    I like having birds in my one-acre, hillside limestone garden. In the circle of life, birds play an important role keeping insect populations in check. Since I don’t use chemicals, I appreciate that they eat what may be consuming what I am planting to eat myself.
    One of my all-time favorite birds is the Carolina wren. I usually have several nesting throughout my garden. It’s fun to hear their thrilling song and to watch their quick moves and busy lifestyle.
    They are known for setting up several nests as decoys, and then using only one. Most of mine are big nesters, sometimes trying to move a twig into the birdhouse larger than the birdhouse opening.
    Most wrens search trees, shrubs and vines for caterpillars, ants, millipedes, grasshoppers, flies, snails and beetles.
    Chickadees and tufted titmice are also summer pest control champions. Although they seem to eat sunflowers and suet through winter, almost all of their summer diet consists of insects — although I have been known to sneak them sunflower seeds. They are particularly fond of moths, caterpillars, flies, beetles, bugs, plant lice, scale, leafhoppers and tree hoppers.
    When I see chickadees and tufted titmice, I also see nuthatches, which in summer feed exclusively on ants, scale, beetles, moth eggs, caterpillars and cocoons.
    In spring, purple martins and other swallows also depend on a variety of insects for their diet: flies, beetles, ants, moths, grasshoppers and dragonflies.
    I also seem to have a year-round population of downy and hairy woodpeckers. These birds get up to 85 percent of their food eating wood-boring beetles and moth larvae, ants, caterpillars, adult beetles, millipedes and aphids.
    Still trying to identify my new garden residents, I asked a professional colleague who is well-versed in Missouri native birds.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Those are Summer Tanagers, the bee eaters,” he said. “Summer Tanagers catch bees and wasps on the move and are smart enough to remove the bee stinger before eating it.”
    Although only two eggs hatched, the babies, and their nest, were gone one morning, possibly taken by raccoons, which I regularly see in my garden. It was upsetting to think of how they disappeared, even if they were snacking on my resident honeybees.
    After a few weeks, their chuckling song once again greeted me. I haven’t found a new nest yet but hopefully if they build another one, it will be in a safer place.
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a rapidly changing climate. Copyright 2014 used with permission by Rolla Daily News and Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.

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