Insects as bird food

wren feeding babies ©Janet Allen
A wren bringing one of the insects she found

The most important food for most birds is insects—even for hummingbirds.

It's easy to know how to provide seeds, nectar, and berries. Simply provide plants that have these things. But how to provide insects?

It's easy. Plant native plants and the insects will be there. No native plants, and you won't have the insects that birds and other creatures need.

Here are photos of birds eating various kinds of insects (or worms) or feeding them to their babies—an extremely important source of high-quality protein for baby birds.

Downy woodpecker ©Janet AllenA downy woodpecker, working hard to get those insects, a nutritious source of food

In the past, not having many insects around sounded appealing. Isn't being insect-free what gardening is all about?

But after reading Eric Grissell's book Insects and Gardens, and then Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home, I understood why insects are important for the health of my garden as well as for preserving biodiversity and a healthy planet.

Insects are the foundation of healthy ecosystems, and native plants are what they're able to eat. It's what they evolved with.

And birds think they're yummy!

Catbird and bee ©Janet Allen
A catbird with a bee in its beak

I was surprised to see this catbird chase down a bumble bee. It took him a while, but he finally got it.

I love my bumble bees (as well as my catbirds), so I was a little upset—until I realized that it's not birds who are responsible for the problems bees are having…

Looking for food ©Janet Allen
Looking for food

I could tell this chickadee had found something special. He was spending quite a bit of time intently working under the arborvitaes, looking at these old dead stalks, which had been left over from the previous year.

I'm glad I hadn't raked the "mess" up and put them out to the curb as seems to be the custom these days.

When the chickadee had eaten his fill (or had gotten annoyed that I was standing there taking his picture), he flew away.

Worms in the stalk ©Janet Allen
Worms in the stalk

I was curious to see what had aroused such interest, and I wasn't surprised when I opened up one of the old stalks and discovered more than three worms curled up inside just one of these old dead stalks. There were other little insects there, too.

This old dead flower stalk was just one of many that we had left to decompose where they fell, so I won't be surprised to see him back again to get another snack.

Downy ©Janet AllenA downy woodpecker getting insects out of the hollow flower stalks left over the winter

We leave many of the dead flower stalks over the winter.

As Grissell says in Insects and Gardens, if you don't leave any place for the "bad" things to overwinter, you're also not leaving any place for the "good" things to overwinter.

And you're also not leaving these handy insect storage units for birds.

Chickadees looking for insects ©Janet AllenChickadees looking for insects

This chickadee is checking this dead stalk, looking for a tasty morsel. Perhaps he had previously cached some insects or seeds there.

More photos of birds eating insects are in the Habitat section.