do birds eat gypsy moth

Now before you think I’m well typecast because I once played the catatonic character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” I must assure you that cuckoos are for real.

In fact there are five cuckoo species that have been sighted in North America with two species quite common in Michigan. They may take some effort to locate since they aren’t typically found in your back yard, unless you live on the border of a large, wild woodlot. Cuckoos sound and look nothing like their namesake clock that was popular when some of us were children but they are a highly important creature at this time in natural history. Let’s take a look at the yellow-billed cuckoo species and learn where and how they can be found locally.

The yellow-billed cuckoo is a medium-sized bird that is roughly the size and shape of a brown thrasher. They have gray-brown upperparts with cinnamon-colored primary wing feathers (the trailing edge of the wing), white undersides, yellow eye ring, and the bill is, you guessed it, black with a yellow lower mandible.

The long tail has white spots that show as white on gray-brown stripes when perching. The less common black-billed cuckoo differs with a solid black bill, red eye ring, solid brown wings, and smaller white tail spots. They average 12 inches in length with a 16 inch wingspan and weigh in at just under 4 ounces. The song is a harsh, rattling “ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kowp” and they also have a “coo” call that is repeated several times, not at all like the couplet rhythm of the clocks .

This bird has tremendous range and is found throughout North America, and in many Central American and Caribbean locations. There are also vagrant populations in parts of Europe, Northern Africa, and the UK. The global population is estimated at 9.2 million individual birds.

They are migratory birds that are found in most of the United States only during the summer breeding season (except for extreme southwestern Arizona). They winter from Mexico to Central America, and the Caribbean. The preferred habitat is moist woods and thickets, overgrown pastures, and orchards and they have an affinity for willows.

The nest is a flimsy saucer of twigs built in bushes or small saplings. The monogamous parents lay one to five light blue green to yellow green eggs that are incubated by both sexes. Cuckoos occasionally lay their eggs in another cuckoo’s nest and rarely in the nest of other bird species. They are not considered to be serious brood parasites.

Food choices are the feature that makes yellow-billed cuckoos very beneficial to us. They eat mainly insects, foraging in dense shrubs and trees and also catch their prey in flight. They have a strong preference for tent caterpillars, cicadas, and gypsy moth caterpillars and they sometimes congregate near outbreaks of these exotic and devastating pests. They will also eat berries and can be found enjoying Mulberries from mid-to-late summer.

Look for yellow-billed cuckoos in the Port Huron State Game area or anywhere locally where woods and water meet in a natural state. They are common along much of the Black River, Mill Creek, and other local wetland woods.

A unique and interesting fact: on day six or seven after hatching, the feathers emerge from their sheaths and the nestlings then become fully feathered in two hours. I close by stating…a group of cuckoos are collectively known as an “asylum” of cuckoos!

If you wish to learn more about birds you are welcome to contact Blue Water Audubon. For information on future meetings or for general information, please visit our Facebook page, “Blue Water Audubon Society,” and be sure to friend us.

As previously mentioned, the long-term effects of gypsy moth infestations on forest ecology are usually limited because the outbreaks last no more than one to three years, which limits the number of tree deaths and permits bird populations to quickly recover or to decline following any spikes in abundance. However, what would another year of defoliation mean for the future of Massachusetts’s forests? However, some areas of the state are about to enter what may be their third or even fourth year of extremely high gypsy moth populations. The repeated defoliations and resulting tree deaths could cause this pest to reverse the process of succession in some forests if drought conditions return in the summer of 2017 or in years to come (Bell and Whitmore 1997) The problem will only get worse due to the drought since a tree or shrub that has already been harmed by disease or defoliation may die more quickly from a lack of water. Because of the selective pressure that favors species that the gypsy moth dislikes to eat, hardwood forest ecosystems may be altered under such conditions (Twery 1991). These species would include shrubs like American holly, mountain laurel, and rhododendron, as well as trees like ash, butternut, walnut, dogwood, tulip poplar, and catalpa (McManus et al. 1979). Drought-resistant plants may also gain a competitive advantage.

Gypsy moth caterpillars are generalists, feeding on many different plants. According to the “enemy-free space cascade hypothesis,” caterpillars that use multiple host plants, as opposed to those that are host-specific, will subsequently be preyed upon by a variety of predators. Predator pressure from birds is thought to cause a strong trophic cascade down the food chain, which in turn causes a significant decrease in herbivory (Singer et al. 2014). Predation by birds and other predators, however, has been found to be insufficient to impact gypsy moth populations once an outbreak occurs (Smith and Lautenschlager 1981). Even though defoliation has a short-term negative effect on the forest, birds have little overall effect on gypsy moths due to the cyclical nature of gypsy moth outbreaks and the fact that gypsy moths are an important source of food for very few predators (Smith 1985).

It is hard to say how the gypsy moth will most likely affect bird populations in the areas of Massachusetts that are most affected. If so, there may be increased habitat for ground- and shrub-nesting bird species. Will the southeastern Massachusetts pine barrens be reduced to nothing more than low, scrubby shrubs, grasses, and herbs, with the canopy hospitable only to cavity-nesting birds that can take advantage of all the snags? Will the death of nearby trees and the repeated exposure of the floors of oak and hickory forests to sunlight create opportunities for invasive shrubs and small trees like buckthorn, burning bush, barberry, and shrub honeysuckle? However, it’s possible that forests won’t be able to grow back a closed canopy, meaning that species of warblers that nest high in trees, like the Eastern Wood-Pewee and Scarlet Tanager, won’t be able to live in the open habitat.

The complex relationship that has grown up in Massachusetts between birds, the forests they live in, and the gypsy moth—an alien pest that has plagued our state for more than a century—has been looked at in this review. Moth outbreaks can significantly change the structure of forests and, consequently, the habitat for birds in the short term. They may also have some effect over longer time horizons, particularly when combined with other stressors like drought. These changes will benefit certain bird species while harming others. The complexity of these interactions is increased by the fact that they are taking place in the context of a changing climate and by the possible introduction of additional pathogens, invasive plants, and forest pests. With a sizable and knowledgeable birding community and a lengthy history of recorded research into the state’s avian populations, Massachusetts is in a good position to fund further studies that look at this problem from a broader angle in the hopes of identifying problems that endanger birds and working to mitigate them.

The light brown egg masses that the female psylla moths lay, mostly on tree trunks and branches but also occasionally on outdoor furniture and other structures, are where psylla moths begin their life cycle. The egg masses are made up of both eggs and hairs from the female moth’s body. Early to mid-May sees the caterpillars emerge from the eggs, and during their earliest instars, they can be seen hiding on the undersides of leaves that are largely still intact. The caterpillars’ hairs are thinner and smaller at this stage than the thicker bristles that appear later in the instars, when the caterpillars are bigger and getting closer to pupation. In late June or early July, the caterpillars pupate and produce dark brownish-red pupal cases, which are frequently found in clusters on tree trunks, fences, or the sides of buildings. After roughly two weeks, the adult moths emerge from the pupal cases. Male moths are grey in color, and during major outbreak years, you can see them flying or drawn to lights at night. Despite having wings, the white females are larger than the males and are unable to fly. Rather, they typically hover around their pupae’s release site until a male shows up to begin a mating dance.

When perching, the long tail’s white spots contrast with the gray-brown stripes. The less common black-billed cuckoo is distinguished by its smaller white tail spots, red eye ring, solid brown wings, and solid black bill. Their average length is 12 inches, their wingspan is 16 inches, and they weigh slightly less than 4 ounces. The song has a harsh, rattling “ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kowp” and a repeated “coo” call that is completely unlike the clocks’ couplet rhythm.

One remarkable and fascinating fact is that the feathers shed their sheaths on day six or seven following hatching, and the nestlings grow their full set of feathers in just two hours. I’ll end by saying this: a group of cuckoos is referred to as a “asylum” of cuckoos!

You are welcome to get in touch with Blue Water Audubon if you would like to learn more about birds. Please visit and friend our “Blue Water Audubon Society” Facebook page for details on upcoming events and general information.

With a vast geographic range, this bird can be found in many parts of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Additionally, there are populations of vagrants in the UK, Northern Africa, and portions of Europe. The global population is estimated at 9. 2 million individual birds.

Before you dismiss me as a bit of a stereotype because I portrayed a catatonic character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” let me tell you that cuckoos are real.


Do grackles eat gypsy moth caterpillars?

Both cuckoo species, along with grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, are attracted to gypsy moth infestations and will enter new territory once the caterpillars reach outbreak levels (Leonard 1981). Once these birds arrive, they consume large numbers of the caterpillars.

What birds eat moth?

Researchers have noted, however, that insectivorous birds that eat adult moths, such as swallows, swifts, nightjars, and flycatchers, have experienced some of the most significant losses of all bird groups in North America since 1970.

Do crows eat gypsy moths?

American Crows eat a variety of flying and ground-dwelling insects. Their impact on insects inspires mixed feelings, as they eat species considered both troublesome (European Corn Borer and Gypsy Moth) and beneficial (ground beetles and ichneumon wasps).

What attracts and kills gypsy moths?

The most common treatment used against gypsy moth is a spray of Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly called Bt. This bacterial insecticide kills caterpillars that eat it within a week of its application. Bt is found naturally in soil and degrades within a week when exposed to sunlight.