Deciphering Diets

…during reproduction, arguably the most important weeks of a bird’s life, 96% of North American terrestrial birds eat insects and other arthropods.

~Doug Tallamy


Prothonotary Warbler with a beak-full of bugs (click photos to enlarge)

During our recent bout of wet weather, I finally managed to do something that has been on my to-do list for awhile – upload images to a citizen science project called What Do Birds Eat? This is a fascinating effort to learn more about what arthropod species are being eaten by North American birds, especially during nesting cycles. The creator of the site, Dr. Doug Tallamy, is well-known as one of the gurus of the native plants movement from his book, Bringing Nature Home – How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.  He is also a professor and Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. One of the key selling points for landowners to plant native plants is that they support a more diverse suite of native insects, which, in turn, help support our native birds. But, as Tallamy points out, we know very little about the specifics of what birds eat, even our common backyard species. So, he created a site to crowd-source photos of birds with insects in their beaks. He and other entomologists will then try to identify the prey and record it on a searchable database. This should be a very interesting project. Below are some of the images I uploaded this week. All but the bittern were adult birds bringing food to nestlings. If any of you have images of birds eating arthropods, I encourage you to submit them to the What Do Birds Eat data entry site…definitely a worthwhile rainy day project.

Louisiana Waterthrush dancing

Louisiana Waterthrush with a mouthful of mayflies


American Bittern with what looks like a Giant Water Bug


Carolina Wren with Daddy-Long-Legs

Brown Thrasher at sunset 1

Brown Thrasher with nymph of Periodical Cicada


Eastern Phoebe with Soldier Beetles

Yellow-throated Vireo and young

Yellow-throated Vireo with a moth


Eastern Bluebird with cricket

Male Bluebird with grub

Eastern Bluebird with beetle grub


Carolina Chickadee with caterpillar

6 thoughts on “Deciphering Diets

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