Twelve Worker Songbirds

Which songbirds are the “best” for controlling pest insects in the home landscape? There are 12 species of songbirds that are the hardest workers, the most numerous in most habitats and the easiest to attract to the backyard in most parts of the country. This is the “Do-It Dozen”. Some are beautiful, such as cardinals and goldfinches. Some are a bit disreputable, such as starlings and house sparrows. However, as a group they are extremely effective at patrolling every nook and cranny of your yard for pest insects.

Virtually all of the Do-It Dozen can be found in every neighborhood in America, except the mountains, the desert, and tropical Florida, where only some of them are resident. Every pest insect found in the home landscape is a potential meal for at least one of the Do-It Dozen. They scout lawns, trees and shrubs, flowers and vegetable patches. They take care of the whole property. The more that you can attract to your yard by offering necessities such as food, water and shelter, the more help you will have in controlling pest insect problems there.

Opinion Column by Jeff About the "Dirty Dozen" In His Yard

It’s the middle of winter and there is not much yardening to do outside except to keep the bird feeders filled.  With the recent snow and ice, it is really important to keep those feeders going once you have started the cafeteria for your songbirds. 


Except for Cardinals, we have the usual band of highwaymen hustling sunflower seed and black thistle seed like professional thieves.  The main crew includes chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, finches (goldfinch and house finch), and the woodpeckers (Hairy, Downy, and Red Bellied).  While the House Finches will move back up north come late spring, the rest of that crew are year round managers of pest insect eggs left in the crevices of tree bark.  Just because you feed them doesn’t mean they stop their daily hunt for insect eggs.  By feeding them you just have a higher number of birds working the tree trunks on your property. 


You all might be surprised to know we have no sparrows and no starlings raiding our bird feeders here in the boonies.  We live in the middle of the woods, and those two gangsters are definitely city and suburban dwellers. To be perfectly truthful, I don’t really miss them all that much.


In the spring the other regulars in the pest insect platoon come back with sun tans.  The Robins, House Wrens, and Catbirds swing in to begin yet another season of raising kids and eating bugs.  We also get a pair or two of Flycatchers which are not so often spotted in the burbs. 


Last week we had an unwanted visitor to our bird feeding station and it wasn’t a squirrel.  I work in front of second story window overlooking the bird feeding area, and my eye caught some movement that was not normal. I looked up and darned if there was not some kind of a hawk going after the songbirds around the feeder.  It was an amazing display of aerial prowess.  What turned out to be an American kestral or Sparrow Hawk, it was almost able to make turns in the air as tight as the chickadees.  He didn’t get any lunch that day, but he has returned a few times when I was watching and has snagged one of our fuzzy beauties a few times. 


I never considered having to worry about a hawk threatening my bird feeder visitors, but this ace is definitely a threat.  Now the population of songbirds visiting the feeders are aware of the hawk’s existence, so they seem to be much quicker in evacuating down low to the ground when it shows up.  The American Kestral is about the size of a Blue Jay and works the edge of fields and woods.  In the summer, it eats mostly insects, but in the winter it will go after songbirds as well.  It is able to hover in the air giving it even more tools to secure its prey. 


Those other rogues, the squirrels, are no longer a problem for our bird feeders since we installed the “Squirrel Stopper” bird feeder post assembly  The Squirrel Stopper is easy to set up and holds four bird feeders up five or six feet off the ground.  The secret to foiling the squirrels is an elongated bell that is suspended on the main post with springs.  We’ve watched squirrels try all kinds of tricks and they can’t beat that bell system.  The rig costs about $125 and is made with extremely high quality materials.  It should last for decades.  You can buy one online from Duncraft ( or check them out in the Detroit area at Wild Birds Unlimited in Grosse Pointe Woods ((313) 881-1410). 


Winter is the time when access to fresh water can be a very difficult challenge for these very same songbirds.  Puddles, small ponds and streams, and bird baths are often frozen over completely.  Getting water from eating snow takes enormous amounts of their energy reserves.  Check out the many different bird bath heaters available from Duncraft on the web or around the city at one of the six Wild Birds Unlimited Stores ( 




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