Birds Useful to the Gardener

From the bluebird to the robin, each of these birds provide a value to the gardener in one form or another.

By Richard Headstrom

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The Phoebe is one of the birds that is useful to any organic gardener.Although March is now behind us and April is with us once again, I still carry with me the memory of one morning in early March when suddenly I saw a flash of cerulean color among the naked branches of a roadside maple. I knew then that spring was just "around the corner” for had not the bluebird arrived from his winter's stay in the southland?

We welcome this lovable bird with his soft warble and gentle manners for, with the exception of the robin, no other bird shows such a decided fondness for human society. If we place a birdhouse on a nearby tree or on a tall post he will quickly take possession of it and throughout the following weeks will reward us with many, delightful moments for having provided him with a ready-made home. 

Indeed, he will do more than entertain us; he will also help us to get rid of various insect pests that make gardening or farming so discouraging at times. He is one of our truly useful birds and I know of no one who has accused him of stealing fruit or preying upon crops. His diet consists mostly of insects (about 68 per cent) and their allies, such as spiders and myriapods, and such vegetable food as he does eat—pokeberry, partridgeberry, greenbrier, chokeberry, Virginia creeper, bittersweet, strawberry bush, wild sarsparilla, wild spikenard, sumach, rose haws, sorrel, ragweed and grass— are of little value to us. He is of particular service in August and September for then grasshoppers make up about 53 per cent of his diet. Those of us whose orchards are overrun with harmful insects, caterpillars and others, would do well to cultivate the friendship of the bluebird for he will repay any kindnesses we extend to him many times over by destroying our insect enemies. 

The bluebird is the first of our migratory song birds to return from the south but is closely followed by the robin, perhaps the best known of all our birds since his distinctive plumage, his reputation as a harbinger of spring (which is more deservedly the bluebird's) and his fondness for  human society make him familiar to all. 

Originally Published in Organic Gardening April 1946.

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