Do birds eat butterflies?

vuwugarden(Central TX 8b)March 24, 2010

My daughter said she saw in the Disney movie, "Bug's Life, or It's a Bug's Life," that birds eat butterflies. I know it's a movie, but could the movie, portraying birds eating butterflies and other flying critters, be true? I have a bird feeder with sunflower seeds and a hummer feeder. The feeders are pretty active with birds in my area.

Please help! I donÂt want to attract the BF to the new garden, only to have them be eaten!!!

Your thoughts?

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fighting8r(10 Fort Myers Florida)

They do, although there is not much you can do about it. Mother nature does help out, as some butterflies are known to be distasteful, even toxic to predators, because of what they eat. This applies to butterflies whose larval hosts are milkweed, pipevine, and others. Then some butterflies have markings that mimic dangerous diet choices, so may also scare off birds.
So as I said there is nothing you can do. It is better to have butterflies around than not. And you daughter is unlikely to ever actually see this happen. I've never seen it, but occasionally you might see a butterfly missing part of a wing, often due to birds trying to grab them.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 10:12PM
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A bird eating a butterfly is a pretty rare event. Butterflies are surprisingly evasive, especially at close range. Just because you see pictures of butterflies landed on people does not mean they cannot evade predators. A bird is more likely to consume a caterpillar than an adult butterfly.

Bats are famous for eating insects on the wing at night, but the butterflies are supposed to be in bed by then.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 10:46PM
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bernergrrl(z5 IL)

I've seen Blue Jays go after swallowtails in the spring, but the swallowtails are able to get away, although they might lose a tail in the escape. Someone on the forum here saw a hummingbird follow a butterfly laying eggs, and then the hummer proceeded to eat the eggs, if I remember correctly.

Because you're feeding the birds, they might be more interested in the readily available seed and not so much in the butterflies.

This winter I moved our bird feeders up closer to the house in between a couple of our gardens so that DD and I could watch the activity. With spring coming on now, I will either remove the feeders or place the feeders out closer to the woods. I did worry about the birds scratching around in the soil and leaves in my garden and possibly eating overwintering caterpillars. But my daughter enjoyed the birds, and I am trying to instill a sense of wonder in the nature in her.

It's hard to strike a balance, but I figure it's all part of the natural world. And I think if we raise butterflies in a bubble, we could possible be selecting for insects that are not the "fittest or the strongest," which could be to their detriment.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 8:23AM
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Very good observation and a great way of teaching children about the joys (and sometimes the sorrows) of nature. My granddaughter has been butterflying with me since age 3, and she is now 8 and still excited about all aspects of gardening and nature. I'm not always happy about Mother Nature's methods of culling, but I can at least understand and appreciate that balances must be maintained in ways I don't always the wasps that patrol my host plants.....grrrrrr!

Do you grow any butterfly host plants? You might want to plant some fennel and let her observe when the Black Swallowtails lay eggs, become caterpillars and grow large, then make a chrysalis. It's quite an adventure for kids!


    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 9:12AM
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vuwugarden(Central TX 8b)

Okay. I guess I won't be outside in my patrol uniform to protect the BF from attack for now, but when I get baby cats, I may choose otherwise :-)

Susan, yes, I plan on stocking up on various plants this weekend.

Let me know if my shopping list is missing anything:

Parsley (curled preferred)
Fennel (Bronze?)
Rue (what's Rue, does this grow in Winnie the Pooh's forest?)
Red Pentas
Tropical Milkweed
Purple coneflower
Blackfoot Daisy
Dallas Red Lantana (does it have to be Dallas Red?)
Butterfly bush (currently have one in the yard already)

I am so excited for my daughter. The loss of her grandmother was harder on her than it was for me. She and her grandma always read books about butterflies; and when she was a little girl, grandma sewed a butterfly custom for Halloween. My daughter wore the outfit on and off until Christmas!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 12:23PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I've been raising butterflies for a long time and feeding birds for years, and I've never seen a bird eat a butterfly. I'm not saying it's never happened, but it must indeed be very rare.
The only critter I've seen trying to eat a butterfly was a mantis - it had a cloudless sulphur in its clutches, which I, fortunately, was able to free. Around here, it's very rare for birds to even eat caterpillars - wasps are the big culprits here. I think wrens have eaten some gulf frit cats that I left on the vines - 'should have protected them in a cage - but that's the only time I know of that happening.
So, I'd recommend heartily that you cater to both butterflies and birds!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 2:41PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Birds are much more likely to go for the caterpillars than the butterflies. I've seen wrens, jays, cardinals, robins, nuthatches, titmice, buntings....gosh, almost any kind of bird will eat caterpillars! That's one reason to keep a bird bath in the middle of your veggie garden!

I have lots of bird friendly trees and shrubs, bird feeders and bird baths so I play host to a myriad of wonderful birds of all kinds. Because of this, I try not to use a large number of host plants that might provide a real smorgasbord for the birds. I do grow some milkweed, but those caterpillars are left alone, of course.

I do grow lots of nectar plants, however. I've never noticed the birds after the flutterbys. Bats will go after the moths, which fly in the evening. You'll see bats swooping around street lamps and outdoor lights because they attract so many moths (and other insects) all night long.

About the only thing I've observed feasting on butterflies are praying mantids. Darned creatures will lay in wait for any pollinator, including bees. If you find a set of wings on the ground, with no insect attached, you'll know that a mantis has had lunch.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:58PM
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The list looks great, Vuwugarden!

Rue is a medicinal herb, so find in the Herb sections of garden nurseries. It can sometimes be difficult to find. But both Black and Giant Swallowtails use it as a host, so you might want at least 3 or 4 plants. Oh, BTW, not related to Roo of WTP fame-teehee-you're going to fit right in here with all the comedians!

Cosmos is good, but C. sulphureous hybrids, like the Cosmic series of Cosmic Orange, Red, and Yellow, are more heat tolerant than the bipinnatus species.

Doesn't have to be Dallas Red, but there are a few Lantana that don't particularly attract butterflies. A couple that butterflies do love include 'Ham and Eggs' and 'Miss Huff'. These are have the multi-colored blooms of yellow, pink, peach, lavendar.

Try to get single blooming Zinnias as they make for better "landing pads".

You might want to add a Passion Vine like P. incarnata, cearulea, 'Lavendar Lady', 'Amythyst', 'Constance Elliott', but avoid the red flowering as they are generally toxic. PVs are host to the Gulf Fritillaries.

You're off to a great start!


    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 7:12PM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)

I've had Phoebes nest under the eave of our house for about 10 years now. They raise two batches of young a year. Over that time I've probably seen about 10 butterflies fed to the chicks. Most were Pearl Crescents. I've seen quite a few more moths gobbled down.

But based on what I see going down those young throats moths and butterflies are extremely small in overall numbers compared to the other types of insects eaten.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 8:46PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Randy, we only get phoebes as winter migrants - they're darling!
I watched a cardinals' nest closely once, because it was in a foundation azalea, right in front of a window. The parents kept bringing the babies these white, sort of roundish things. I couldn't figure out what they were, until I happened to see one of them catch a cricket, pull its legs and head off, and then bring the body, minus the "skin" to the nest - interesting!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 10:33AM
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Lucky you, Randy!

MissSherry, when I am digging a new hole in the garden, or preparing a new bed, I find a few grubs that I toss out on the driveway for the birds to eat! I keep the earthworms, but not those nasty grubs!


    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 10:40AM
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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)


The male has overwintered here the last 3 years while his mate heads south. She returned about a week ago. I'm surprised the male made it through the wet cold winter we just had.

Haven't checked the nest yet, but I think the female has already laid eggs.


It's a lot of fun watching them raise their young. It's always a blast when they leave the nest. On more than one occasion I've had them almost fly into me as they play chase with one another zooming around the house.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 12:25PM
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I have a Phoebe nesting in the eaves on my back porch right now. I'm rooting for her, because last year she nested on the front porch and had her eggs eaten twice by a snake. The cats are on the back porch though.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 3:53PM
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jrcagle(z7 MD)

I've seen exactly one bird-on-butterfly event, on my honeymoon (a while ago...).

A bird swooped down from about 30yd away and made off with a large white object that could only have been a sulphur.

(I've also seen a jumping spider "jump" a tiger swallowtail. Whoa.)


    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 5:37PM
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I'm glad the large white object was not your bride!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 11:16PM
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What would we do without you inserting an unexpected bit of humor into these threads, Larry_Gene? ROTFLMAO!!


    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 7:47AM
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Birds will eat butterflies but it is not cost effective for them to do so. Butterflies look like lazy fliers but are actually very difficult to catch. Just head out with a net and see! Butterflies are built to be anti-bird,their 4 wing construction gives them on the dime turning ability. As stated before, some taste horrible (monarchs actually concentrate cardiac glycosides in their wings so a nibble will release them), and some even give off chemicals to ward off would be predators (monarchs do this too). The biggest predator of adult butterfies (as opposed to larva)are spiders. I believe crab spiders are the biggest, as they hide in flowers that bees and butterflies visit. Ever notice how there are pictures everywhere of a crab spider feeding on a butterfly?

The birds will eat a lot of caterpillars. They will probably make a major switch from seed to larva in the spring when feeding youngsters. Mostly though, it is probably pest species they will feed on at this time. Many of which are found in large numbers (group feeding). A favorite of small birds are sawflies (not butterflies but the larva get confused with butterflies).

So, feed away, but if you want to raise butterflies, best to bring some eggs in the house to watch and raise. Too many other boogie monsters besides birds that get the little ones.


    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 8:44AM
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I've just watched a house sparrow eat two in quick succession, wings and all. It took the first one, a Red Admiral I believe, in flight and then it ate it whilst perched in a holly tree overlooking a buddleia. When it had finished that it swooped down and took a white butterfly from the buddleia, returning to its perch to eat that too.
It caused me to Google ' do birds eat butterflies ' because I'd never seen it happen before. Just dropped in to share that info. Have a nice day :)

Lincolnshire UK.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2010 at 10:13AM
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I googled "do birds eat butterflies" this morning precisely because I was sitting at my kitchen table admiring a beautiful butterfly flitting around a purple verbena plant when two birds swooped down, one nabbed the butterfly and they both flew off together. My first impression was that my eyes deceived me, but not I think not!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 10:12AM
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Last year, I witnessed a chickadee go after an American Lady and miss. I also saw a catbird eat one of my AL cats...
Some butterflies are distasteful to birds or look so (most SoFla butterflies are bitter to both birds and lizards).


    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 1:12PM
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