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 robin has been indicted as an enemy because of the great amount of small fruit which he eats. It has been shown by stomach analysis that vegetable food comprises about 58 percent of his diet, 42 per cent or more being wild fruits and only about 8 percent being possibly cultivated varieties, although this amount increases to about 25 percent in June and July.  The reason for the sharp increase in these two months is possibly due to the fact that the bird up to this time has been feeding on insects, earthworms and dried berries and being satiated with such fare finds the early ripening cherries and other small fruits rich juicy morsels too tempting to pass up. He has not been found guilty of eating apples, peaches, pears, grapes or even late cherries because by the time these fruits ripen the woods and roadsides are teeming with such wild fruits as dogwood, greenbrier, barberries, hackberries, elder, wild cherries, wild grapes and others which are apparently more to his taste. If such wild fruits are not abundant and the robin takes to eating cultivated fruits we ourselves are to blame for having destroyed the wild fruits and berries which form his natural diet. 

If we have thus made him an unwilling pest, the robin himself wishes to have it otherwise and attempts to offset the harm he unwittingly does by destroying enormous quantities of noxious insects. For those statistically minded the remaining 42 percent of his food consists mainly of insects, broken down as follows: beetles 16 percent; grasshoppers 5 per cent, although this increases to about 17 percent in August; caterpillars 9 percent; and various insects, spiders, snails and angleworms 12 percent. All of these insects eaten are not necessarily harmful species, (about 5 percent of the beetles eaten, for instance, are useful ground beetles) but I think it safe to say that a third or more of the insects eaten by the robin can be classified as destructive. 

Robins have been killed because of the ravages which they have committed in some fruit-growing regions. But since they eat ten times as much wild fruit as cultivated fruit it seems inexcusable to destroy these birds in order to save so little, particularly when they make amends by destroying noxious insects. As a matter of fact, the robins, by feeding on such insects, have been helping the orchardists all season to make their crops possible and that when the fruit ripens the orchardists are indebted to them for services rendered. It is, as I see it, wholly unnecessary to destroy the robins at any time or in any region for with a little care and effort both the birds and the fruit can be preserved. If wild fruit is not abundant, cultivated crops can be protected by planting fruit-bearing shrubs and vines to provide the birds with their natural food and which, incidentally, would be ornamental as well, and where fruit is grown in large quantities it would be no great loss to set apart a tree or two for the birds, although in some cases the fruit trees can be protected by scarecrows.

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