Garden Birds: The Insectavores


picture of a northern mockingbird

In addition to the seed eating birds that gather around back yard feeders, another group of insectivores often can be found near the garden, helping with insect management. One need go no further than the Northern Mockingbird to understand their popularity. Five states, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, designate it their state bird, making this back yard visitor one of the most popular of all state birds. Here’s a rundown of some representative species of the most popular types of garden birds.

Bird Mimics: Mockingbirds and Thrashers

Starting with a bit more on the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). It’s the most wide-ranging and recognized Mimidae species and it lives year round in most of its territory. Anyone whose yard serves as a host to Mockingbirds knows about their propensity to sing, sometimes all day and night.

Even more amazing, mockingbirds sing in foreign languages. Experts estimate that mockingbirds possess the ability to mimic dozens of bird species as well as the sounds of bells, whistles, frogs and other sound producing objects within their range of hearing.

They are territorial birds, often engaged in fights with other bird species that enter their territory. The northern most population tends to migrate to souther regions during the winter.

Of the one dozen North American species, seven belong to the thrasher genus, Toxostoma Physically they share similar features, being medium sized birds with muted feather colors and decurved bills. All thrashers also forage on the ground searching for local insect populations.

All members of the family are very social birds, readily adapting to residential areas. Their somewhat calm demeanor makes it easy to photograph them.

picture of a long-billed-thrasher

The Curve-billed thrasher in the top picture, resides in the desert Southwest, down through south Texas. Long-billed Thrashers (Toxostoma longirostre), picture two, lives in the under brush of South Texas. California thrashers do not venture far from California state boundaries.

The remaining few thrasher species are found in limited areas of the Southwest and Rocky Mountain states.

Garden Birds: Thrush and Bluebirds

picture of a female Varied Thrush

Second only to the bird mimics the thrush and bluebirds of North America also happily attach themselves to residential areas and back yard gardens. Better known by the common names of thrushes, robins, solitaires and bluebirds, species diversity reaches its peak in the genus Turdus, with its eleven recorded species, including the American Robin. The picture shows a Varied Thrush. During the breeding season, their territory tends to be the coniferous forests of mountain areas. During winters, many move to the valleys, and they can often be seen at backyard bird feeders.

picture of a Robin

American robins, another very popular garden bird, has three states, Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin designating it as their official state bird. During the winter season, Robins are known to gather in large flocks, sometimes reaching populations of 100,000 or more, in areas that provide adequate food, shelter and water.

Longer term Turdidae residents such as the Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli) and Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) make the most threatened Turidae species list, with habitat loss and acidification considered as their primary threats. Acidification research, for example, addresses issues such as the relationship between changes in soil composition caused by acid rain and local soil based insect populations, a primary wood thrush food source.

The songs of the three native bluebird species pleases most ears. Missouri and New York call the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) their official state birds. Nevada and Idaho awarded the same designation to the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides). Bluebirds partially migrate throughout the year in search of food, mostly insects, supplemented by berries and seeds.

North American Kinglets: Regulidae

picture of a ruby-crowned kinglet

Kinglets are a group of small songbirds in the family Regulidae. Six different species inhabit the world’s forests, and two of them, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) and Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), live in and around the edges of the forests in northern North America.

The picture highlights the red patch characteristic of the male Ruby-crowned Kinglet. It’s not always visible. The Golden-crowned Kinglet sports a distinct yellow color crown. It is characteristic of both males and females, although the male patch can also have a touch of orange in it.

Both kinglet species are otherwise identified by their olive colored bodies and white wing bars. Despite their diminutive size, kinglets are hardy birds. Many do migrate to Southern climates for the winter. However, winter populations of both species are found in the Northeast/New England and Pacific Northwest regions. During the colder winter months, the northern populations tend to move to lower elevations, including residential areas. They live a very active lifestyle, fltting about the tree branches in search of insects.


picture of a bewick's wren

Wrens, a diverse family (Troglodytidae) of predominantly new world songbirds, populate grasslands, marshes and forests from Alaska to the southern most areas of South America. The ABA lists eleven North American wrens. Species diversity increases to the south, with thirty breeding species identified in Mexico.

>Most wrens share some common physical traits, including small size, brown feathers, stiff tails and long decurved bills. Wren vocalizations differ from species to species, and most species receive comparatively little credit for their singing skills.

Troglodytidae species are also tend to be cavity nesters, some with an obsessive habit of tagging multiple cavities and bird boxes within their territory during breeding season. This practice may be defensive, with a goal of discouraging competitor nesting and confusing potential predators.

Some species such as the Carolina Wren, the Sedge Wren and the Cactus Wren inhabit a limited geographical area. The house wren and marsh wren range extends across most of North America.

Bewick’s wren (Thryomanes bewickii), top picture, inhabit Western brush areas, often in residential locations. Northern populations tend to migrate in greater numbers than southern populations.

picture of a cactus wren

Cactus wrens inhabit the southern border regions of North America from Southern California, east to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

A larger than average wren, they spend they day foraging for insects and spiders. Unlike other wrens, they also eat seeds. Arizona designated Cactus wrens as the official state bird.

picture of a carolina wren

The cheerful and often loud singing of Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) reverberates across many residential areas of eastern North America.

Most of the population resides year round in one location, making them common visitors to back yard feeders. Like the Bewick’s Wren, the tan breasted, brown feathered Carolina Wren sports a white stripe across the eye.

South Carolina designated the Carolina Wren as its official state bird.