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Science & NatureWhat is That?What is that ... for supper?

What is that … for supper?

Waddells

We love the birds at the cottage, all the birds, every single one.  We love the beauty of their plumage, their songs, and even their eating habits … especially the eating habits of the insectivores.  Without insectivores, insects would run out of control.  Without insects, we would not have the many insectivorous birds we love at the cottage, including the chickadees, flycatchers, nuthatches, warblers, and woodpeckers.

We are most familiar with black-capped chickadees from their frequent visits to the seed ball which hangs from our lakeside deck.  Indeed, a few bold ones have hopped about on the window ledge in apparent attempts the catch our attention if our resident feeder-of-birds has been negligent and allowed the supply of sunflower seeds to run low.  Clearly our chickadees eat sunflower seeds.  According to Sibley, though, they also eat spiders and insects which can be seen in the following photograph of a chickadee eating a larval stage insect.

A number of birds hunt for and eat the insects that live on trees and hide in tree bark.  Nuthatches earn their living by gleaning insects from trees, using their sharp, needle-like bills to probe the bark. Nuthatches also spend a lot time eating from our sunflower seed feeder, so much so that for a long time we assumed they too were only seed eaters. Our research, however, has pointed out to us their significant role gleaning insects from tree trunks.  We watched for some time while this red-breasted nuthatch hopped up and down the trunk of the spruce tree just six feet from our cottage porch.  It worked the crevices of the bark for some time before posing on a limb to allow for the photograph below.

Solitary flycatchers, the eastern phoebe forages mainly for small flying insects.  We love to watch a phoebe swoop down from its perch on the head of our garden inuksuk or from the lilac bush to snap up a passing flying insect.  If our backs are turned, our attention can be caught by the sharp snap of their powerful beaks. It is clear, that one flying insect they eat is the grasshopper.

Amongst the insectivorous warblers at the cottage are the pine warbler and the common yellowthroat.

Occasionally, we catch a glimpse of a pine warbler which, as its name suggests, is commonly associated with pine trees.  We have a lot of pines at the cottage, but seeing a pine warbler is a rare treat.  In the photo below, a male pine warbler has captured a green caterpillar. Given that the photo was taken in July, it is likely this pine warbler was taking the insect larva to young hatchlings.

The male common yellowthroat warbler wears a distinctive black mask.  Small, stocky birds, they are one of our favourites because they are so easy to identify once you manage to spot them as they  move about inside the canopy of shrubs and small trees.   It often sits with its tail raised, as you can see in the photo.  You can also see the insect larva it or its young will soon be eating.

Many people ask what good those pesky insects are, including us sometimes when nature has seemed to overdo it with tent caterpillars or deer flies.  A forest without insects, however, would not be very healthy and we would not see many of our favourite insectivorous birds.  How sad we would be without the birds.

We have a new (second hand) book … The Birder’s Bug Book by Gilbert Waldbauer inspired this article.  Also, we checked some details in David Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.

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