When Insects Are Scarce

By Darlene Betat

A Hermit Thrush has taken to perching outside our kitchen window on cold and rainy days. I like to think it’s looking for me—and, in a way, it is—though more as a symbol of food to come. Hermit Thrushes are insect- eaters that forage on the ground and are known for being wary and quick to take flight. This bird has learned to peer in from a branch at eye level and stays put while I open the window to toss it live mealworms. As soon as the first mealworm hits the ground, it hops down to begin feasting.

We have hosted this thrush for more than one winter. What joy to welcome it back with a feeding of live mealworms when it returned this fall. Though it disappears for days, whenever the weather turns and insects become scarce it is back on its branch, waiting expectantly.

One recent evening, temps were below freezing, and the thrush stayed later than usual. With a visibly full crop, I watched it take several more mealworms before flying off into the dark with prey dangling from its beak. Wow! I had no idea a thrush would plan for its next meal. There is so much to be learned from watching birds.

What other insect-eating birds are here in winter? Robins, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Bushtits, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, plus all our woodpeckers. In addition to whatever insects they can find, some of these birds will feed on hanging or fallen fruit and many have learned to visit feeders or the area below to find enough food in winter. There’s a reason this month was deemed National Bird Feeding Month. February serves some of the coldest temperatures and gives birds less time to feed and long nights to endure thanks to its shorter daylight hours. Finding supplemental foods such as live mealworms, suet, and hulled seeds or nuts can make the difference for any given bird, even those that eat a variety of foods.

Birds bring peace and calm, as well as mystery and wonder. I find feeding them a deeply rewarding way to help them out.