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Garden Allies: Gleaners among the Birds

Articles: Garden Allies: Gleaners among the Birds

Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna). Illus: Craig Lakter

More Than Just Beauty and Song

Standing at my kitchen sink one day, I watched a hummingbird hovering alongside a spider web that stretched between an old rose and the nearby windowsill. I knew that hummingbirds favor spider silk to line their nests, but it soon became clear that this bird was picking insects from the web-using it as a convenient "pantry." That day, I learned that hummingbirds, well known as nectar-feeders, also eat insects, and can often be observed gleaning aphids and other small arthropods from plants.

Any conversation on attracting birds is sure to produce a lively debate among gardeners. Yes, my pea seedlings have been systematically pulled from the ground on more than one occasion, and I have lost my share of berries to birds. But overall, birds add an essential, beneficial, and aesthetic element to any garden. While most birds eat a varied (omnivorous) diet, birds that eat insects for at least part of their lives account for eighty to ninety percent (and sometimes more) of bird species in most areas. Some birds seek out insect...


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