Insect Eating Birds: Do Birds Eat Bees, Mosquitoes and Butterflies?

These common insect eating birds munch on butterflies, bees, mosquitoes, ants and more.

Bnbbyc19 April Eisele
Courtesy April Eisele
Western tanager eating a moth

Do Birds Eat Butterflies?

Many insect eating birds like orioles, grosbeaks, blue jays and other fliers will occasionally go after caterpillars, whose bodies are nutritious. But adult butterflies’ size make them difficult for small birds to catch.

Desiree L. Narango, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says, “For the most part, moths are more abundant and palatable than butterflies.”

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A hummingbird flutters through the air by a wasp.
Courtesy John Pattison
A hummingbird flutters through the air near a wasp.

Do Birds Eat Bees?

Insect eating birds that eat bees only do it occasionally. “In general, bees are not highly preferred insects,” Desiree says.

Eastern kingbirds, scarlet tanagers and summer tanagers will eat bees whenever the opportunity arises, but most birds do not seek them out. The majority of birds that prey on bees catch the insects while in flight and consume them whole.

Hummingbirds do not eat bees, but they are often seen together. Bees are just attracted to many of the foods hummingbirds also love, so they tend to congregate.

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A barn swallow sits on a branch, surveying the area for insects.
Courtesy Debora Parker
A barn swallow sits on a branch, surveying the area for insects.

Birds That Eat Mosquitoes

Many common birds, such as northern cardinals and house sparrows, occasionally eat mosquitoes. But barn swallows, blackpoll warblers and eastern phoebes are mosquito-eating champions.

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insect eating birds, bluebird
Courtesy Larissa Brogley
Eastern bluebirds eat plenty of insects.

Insect Eating Birds: Bluebirds

Nesting boxes will attract bluebirds to your yard, but the bugs keep them there. With short, slender bills that are ideal for snatching insects, these dazzling thrushes pluck beetles from veggie gardens, catch mosquitoes and moths out of the air, and study the ground from a low perch for grasshoppers, crickets and beetles in tall grass. You can lure them to feeders with mealworms.

Eastern bluebirds and western bluebirds spot caterpillars and insects in grass more than 50 yards away. “Birds are primarily visual hunters,” says Desiree. “When insects come out, birds key in on them right away.”

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An eastern phoebe perches on a branch with an insect in its mouth.
Linda Tucker Serniak/EyeEm/Getty Images
An eastern phoebe perches on a branch with an insect in its mouth.

Phoebes

Unsurprisingly, these small brown birds, which are members of the flycatcher family, “eat mostly aerial insects,” Desiree says.

The brownish gray eastern phoebe and the light brown western species, Say’s phoebe, take short flights from a favorite perch, snatch a mosquito or fly midair, then, in a flash, return to their landing pad. “In the fall, when it’s warm, they’ll gobble down lots of yellow jackets and flies,” she says.

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A brown-headed nuthatch perching upside-down on a moss covered tree trunk.
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A brown-headed nuthatch clings on a moss covered tree trunk.

Nuthatches

These gray-blue birds travel headfirst down tree trunks, probing the bark with their long, thin bills for beetles, treehoppers, ants, caterpillars and scale insects that woodpeckers may have missed.

Pygmy and brown-headed nuthatches even craft tools from bark bits to pry up and expose insects. In summer, they’re drawn to leafy backyards to forage for critters.

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insect eating birds A Carolina chickadee perched outside a wooden birdhouse with a caterpillar in its beak.
Steve and Dave Maslowski
A Carolina chickadee perched outside a wooden birdhouse with a caterpillar in its beak.

Chickadees

During spring and summer, insects make up the vast majority of black-capped chickadees’ diet.

“Even in winter, more than 50% of their diet is insects overwintering in dead leaves or in bark,” Desiree says.

These agile birds catch flies and moths in open air; glean aphids, scale insects and beetles from plants; and store the insects in crevices or under twigs.

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A male adult rose-breasted grosbeak sports and bright red chest and black and white body.
pchoui/Getty Images
Rose-breasted grosbeaks eat insects and seeds.

Grosbeaks

Thick, conical bills are ideal for cracking tough seeds as well as grasshoppers, crickets and other insects with tough exoskeletons. Rose-breasted grosbeaks and their western cousins, black-headed grosbeaks, fly out to capture bugs, such as wasps, bees and flies, and pick up beetles in foliage and branches.

Their diet is half insects during the breeding season, with seeds and fruit rounding off the rest of the menu.

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A northern flicker extends its long tongue to grab a bug from a tree.
Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock
A northern flicker extends its long tongue to grab a bug from a tree.

Northern Flickers

Northern flickers eat beetles and grasshoppers, but their favorite insects are ants—they can eat over a thousand in a single day. In addition to drilling into wood for bugs as other members of the woodpecker family do, flickers hammer at the soil for ants and their larvae.

Desiree says, “Most woodpeckers key in on bark beetles and wood-boring beetles and eat ants on occasion, but they don’t target them as the flicker does.”

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insect eating birds A ruby-throated hummingbird opens its beak to eat a small bug.
Courtesy Linda Petersen
A ruby-throated hummingbird opens its beak to eat a small bug.

Hummingbirds

With an amazing ability to hover and quickly change direction, hummingbirds catch bugs such as gnats, mosquitoes, aphids, mites and flying ants while on the move—even from spider webs without becoming entangled themselves.

They swallow their prey whole, since their long, narrow bill prevents them from manipulating or tearing apart their food. Put out overripe bananas to attract fruit flies and draw in hummingbirds.

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Identify tufted titmice by their tall gray crests.
H.H. Fox Photography/Getty Images
Identify tufted titmice by their tall gray crests.

Tufted Titmice

They’re a familiar sight at seed feeders, but the gray-crested birds are also found upside-down or sideways on branches searching for caterpillars, ants, aphids and treehoppers, as well as wasps and stink bugs.

When tufted titmice aren’t hanging around, they’re often hopping on the ground searching for insects, which make up most of their diet in summer.

Psst—backyard birds love black oil sunflower seeds.

Monica Cardoza
Monica Cardoza is a freelance writer covering outdoor recreation and conservation with bylines in The Washington Post, Audubon, Sierra, and New Jersey Monthly. She has a journalism degree from New York University and a master's in publishing from Pace University. She's a former editor for The New York Times Syndicate, and a current member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Garden Communicators International, and the Native Plant Society of New Jersey. She volunteers as programs chair for a 107-acre nature preserve in northern New Jersey, The Celery Farm (fykenature.org). As part of Monica's passion for encouraging Birds & Blooms readers to explore and understand their outdoors, she interviews conservationists, scientists and leaders specializing in birding and plants. Among her favorite articles she's written for Birds & Blooms are pieces about backyard optics, creating a safe yard for hummingbirds, and the women behind Birdability, which seeks to make birding more accessible. Monica lives in Ridgewood, N.J., with her husband and daughter.