Natural Insect Control With Birds

Here's how to attract birds to your property, the most effective form of natural insect control you'll ever have.

| July/August 1980

During the midsummer months, most gardeners find that the struggle to protect their gardens from grasshoppers, aphids, and the like rapidly escalates into full-scale war!

That needn't be the case, however, because it's possible to keep your garden's insects in hand without introducing damaging chemicals into the environment. The bug killer I'm talking about doesn't come in spray cans or plant tablets ... but it does have a beautiful package. And—best of all—it's nontoxic, nondisruptive to the ecological balance (in fact, it's very much a natural part of that balance), extremely effective ... and free!

Birds—the ultimate method of natural insect control—have been feeding on the earth's insect population for millions of years (just doin' what comes naturally!), but it's up to you to attract the "aerial bug bombs" to your land ... and to encourage them to eat the parasites in your garden. You'll be amazed at just how much the feathered foragers do consume, too. A tiny swallow will devour 1,000 leaf hoppers in 12 hours ... a pair of hungry yellowthroats make short work of thousands of plant lice ... a Baltimore oriole can gobble up 17 hairy caterpillars per minute ... a cuckoo will polish off 217 webworms at one sitting ... and a house wren may feed 500 insects to its young in the course of an afternoon.

Make Your Guests Comfortable

In order to attract birds to your homestead, you must first make some reliable source of water available. In a humid climate, frequent rains and morning dew may provide sufficient moisture for your feathered friends, or you might be able to rely on a stream or pond (if there is one on your land) . . . but it never does any harm to set up a bird bath. The receptacle can be as simple as a shallow pan of water placed on a stump, or as elaborate as the carved stoneware models sold at nurseries. The beaked bathers are especially attracted to moving water, however, so you might want to hang a leaky bucket (or a can with holes punched in its base) over the reservoir, and let it drip into the liquid below. (Make sure the "tub" is kept clean and the water is changed often so it won't spread diseases.)    

Chow Time! 

A flying cleanup crew will be most easily drawn to your place if you can be counted on to provide a reliable source of food in the winter ... when insect treats are few and far between. The key is to plan ahead: If you want birds to de-bug your garden in the summer, remember to feed them in the colder months. Just keep your end of the bargain, and they'll return the favor later in the year. (As a bonus, the hungry flyers will provide you with an entertaining acrobatic show when they visit your winter "soup kitchen.")

And remember: Once you start providing them with cold-weather fare, don't neglect the snowbound birds ... because they'll come to depend on your for food and could actually starve if suddenly forced to do without their daily handout.

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