Insect-Eating Birds In The Garden

Larry Hansford is an avid reader of this blog and he recently asked me if I’ve written anything about attracting insect-eating birds into the garden.

I said not much, would you like to write a little something?

And so he wrote about his garden and he filmed the video below.


Purple Martin
Purple Martin

For many years, we have had a house for Purple Martins, and have enjoyed the mosquito-free yard that they help maintain.

Plus, it is entertaining watching and listening to them while they work.

Over the years, I noticed that while mowing with the riding mower that the sky would fill with birds that were catching the bugs that the mower stirred up.

But they were not the Purple Martins which remained on their house.

After some research, I discovered that the birds were Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows.

The Barn Swallows had nests in the rafters of the old barn in what used to be a pasture on our property, but it was not clear where the Tree Swallows nested.

YouTube video

I located some birdhouses for the Tree Swallows and installed four of them around the gardens. Immediately all four houses became occupied by Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, both insect-eating birds.

This is the fourth year that we have had Tree Swallows and Bluebirds nesting around the gardens in the houses I provided for them.

Not only has it been a joy to watch the birds flying about the yard, coming and going as they search for bugs to eat, but there has been a tremendous reduction in pests in the gardens.

One of the Tree Swallows favorite insects is the White Cabbage Moth. Because of the birds’ pursuit of the moth, we seldom see cabbage worms on the brassica family plants in the gardens.

Additionally, I have observed the Bluebirds sitting on the edge of the raised beds watching for squash and cucumber beetles, and feasting on them when they detect motion.

While the Tree Swallows prefer flying insects, the Eastern Bluebirds prefer insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, larvae, and small moths.

I have never seen the swallows on the ground, or in the raised beds looking for insects, but I have frequently observed the bluebirds doing so.

Meanwhile, the swallows will sit on the top of the trellises for cucumbers and squash just waiting for a moth to fly by.

One thing we have learned about attracting birds to the garden, though, is to not use the yellow sticky traps to catch the squash and cucumber beetles.

The birds will attempt to get the beetles off the trap but will get their feathers caught in the Tree Tanglefoot that I use to coat the traps.

While the yellow sticky traps are very effective at catching the beetles as they fly into the gardens, they are not compatible with the birds also wanting those beetles.


  1. We have phoebes and sparrows around a lot, catbirds and bluebirds. I have seen phoebes fly in and grab caterpillars off the garden plants. So very helpful!

  2. Lucinda Olney says:

    Would love to know what part of the country you are living in! Beautiful sounds of the birds. Here in Berkeley, Ca. We have three bee hives in the backyard. As the older bees get ready to die they leave the hive and you’ll see them crawling on the ground. Blue jays come, perch on top of the hives and then fly down to snatch one up. Slightly different version of insect-eating birds but interesting to watch.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Lucinda! I am in SW Ohio. Good to hear you have some bee hives – in a former life I was a commercial beekeeper, with around 150 hives.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing! This has been my hoped for method of pest control since I am hoping to build a permaculture system for our garden. I have tried to attract the birds to come feast on the bugs, but so far without much luck. I will need to go looking for some new homes to put up for them. Thank you, again!

  4. Christa Porth says:

    We have a beautiful red Summer Tanager this year and he took one weekend recently to complete decimate the paper wasp and yellow hornets who we battle every summer. He tore every nest down, ate the larvae and then caught wasp after wasp. It was amazing!

    We also have some fly catching Phoebes who have nested on our porch 4 years running and they keep our mosquito and fly population in check around the house.

    Bug eating birds are the best!

  5. Dr. Douglas Tallamy has written a book titled Bringing Nature Home. He has studied insects and explains how birds need to feed insects to their young for the protein in their diet, just as human babies need protein in their diet as they develop and grow. So it seems all birds eat insects at some point in their lives. And they need native plants that support these insects. It is important to understand the role all insects play in the food chain and not to indiscriminately destroy all of them.

  6. Does anyone know if any birds will eat the invasive Spotted Lantern Fly?

    We live in southeastern PA, which has been deemed a quarantine area because of this invasive insect and we just detected the nymph stage (3rd instar stage) of this bug in our garden this week. Ugh!!! We think it killed our massive oak leaf hydrangea. These nymphs were spotted also on our black eyed susans and rose bushes. I have killed 5 of these nymphs so far since finding they have arrived in our gardens. We have a bluebird box up that has been continuously occupied for the last 2 years, even in winter. I just built a second bluebird house and that will be going up this week.

  7. AZ-George says:

    Her in AZ, we have the Gambrel Quail. They like eating the stinging ants that really liked the soft garden soil. No more ants after the first year. The hummingbirds eat the tiny pesky flies. Not many bird species in the desert.

Comments are closed.