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IN THE GARDEN: Beneficial birds and a ‘bad guy’

Female Eastern bluebird with grasshopper

A female Eastern bluebird with a grasshopper meal. Make your yard inviting to beneficial birds, nature's pest control, by providing food, water, and shelter. Adobe Stock image

Many birds can be extremely helpful when it comes to controlling unwanted guests, aka damaging insects, in our gardens. Bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, house finches, hummingbirds, purple martins, nuthatches, orioles, tanagers, titmice, woodpeckers, and wrens are several of our beneficial avian friends.

To make your garden inviting to birds, there are requirements. Just like humans, they will want food, water, and shelter. Most birds eat differently depending on the season. For instance, some will eat seeds in the winter, bugs in the spring and summer, and berries in the summer to fall. Circulating water, water features, or a bird bath will provide hydration for all. Regarding shelter, trees and bushes offer protection and roosting. However, housing requirements will differ for each species. For example, a purple martin, the largest sparrow, will not fit in the opening of a birdhouse designed for a chickadee. Choose which friends you want to invite and provide appropriate accommodations.

What bugs do they eat?

  • Bluebirds: beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, larvae, moths
  • Cardinals: large insects, beetles, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, snails, stink bugs
  • Chickadees: caterpillars, grubs, worms
  • House finches: aphids, caterpillars, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, leafhoppers, leaf miners
  • Hummingbirds: aphids, mites, mosquitoes
  • Nuthatches: ants, borers, caterpillars, earwigs
  • Orioles: beetles, caterpillars, flies, grasshoppers, insect larvae, moths
  • Purple martins: large flying insects, beetles, dragonflies, flies, grasshoppers, moths, wasps
  • Tanagers: spiders, wasp larvae, wasps
  • Titmice: aphids, beetles, caterpillars, leafhoppers
  • Woodpeckers: aphids, beetles, caterpillars, worms
  • Wrens: ants, beetles, caterpillars, grubs, snails


Malta star thistle (Centaurea melitensis) is a nemesis of an invasive. Common to the Texas Hill Country, this plant can suffocate your yard, garden, and wildflowers. Check out photos of the Malta star thistle courtesy of Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, a Hill Country native. She has images that differentiate the “good guys” from the bad.

Before Malta star thistle goes to seed, pull it out of the ground, root and all. Be careful there is not a cactus behind you to fall on. These bad guys are incredibly stubborn at times. 

“Early detection and eradication soon after discovery will increase the likelihood of controlling a Malta star thistle infestation,” the Texas A&M Forest Service recommends.

Although the thistle is a beautiful bloom, it’s benefits are short term. According to Smith-Rodgers and the Forest Service, the seeds “can remain viable for up to 10 years.” The Forest Service states that one flower can produce one to 60 seeds.

Keep your souls and soles in your garden! Remember the True Master Gardener: Jesus said, “I am the vine; my Father is the Gardener.” John 15:1

“In the Garden” is written by daughter-father gardening team Martelle and Bill Luedecke. If you have gardening questions, contact Martelle at 512-769-3179 or or Bill at 512-577-1463 or