These stealthy hunters wait on low tree branches, slowly lowering and raising their tails, then swoop out to snap up insects with loud clicks of their beaks. Phoebes (whose name comes from their characteristic FEE-BE song) feast on everything from flies, mosquitoes, small moths, flying ants, and small beetles to grasshoppers, crickets, and caterpillars.
Because these fearless flyers especially like to swoop down over water to scoop up insects, try using water (a small pool, pond, or water garden) to entice them to your yard. Since phoebes prefer to build their mud-made nests in, on, or around manmade structures, you can attract them by providing a nesting shelf or two under your eaves (located in a quiet spot, away from busy doorways, porches, or decks).
These include the song sparrow, chipping sparrow, and field sparrow (but not the so-called house sparrow, which is actually a weaver finch). Although most of the sparrows’ diet is seed, it consists of more than one-third insects, especially during the nesting season. Sparrow seed eating is even garden friendly. They prefer weed seeds, such as from crabgrass, ragweed, and pigweed.
Their insect choices include grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, leafhoppers, true bugs, ants, and beetles. One warning, though: In warmer parts of the country, sparrows sometimes supplement their diet with winter garden crops—clipping off seedlings and sprouts. In these areas, just protect young seedlings with row covers or mesh screening.
To make it easy for the birds to nest along the perimeter of your yard, provide nesting materials like straw, bark, and pieces of string. Sparrows raise two or three broods per year.
Photo: (cc) Paul Stein/Flickr