You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Wild Georgia: Birds have big appetites for caterpillars

Oaks, hickories and other hardwoods that were leafless only a few weeks ago now are sporting their bright green canopies of spring.

The leafing out, in turn, has triggered another springtime phenomenon, the “great munching.” Countless hordes of voracious caterpillars are emerging and devouring the tender new foliage for nourishment to grow into adult moths and butterflies (which make up the Lepidoptera order).

Unchecked, super-hungry caterpillars would denude forest foliage within weeks. Fortunately, some equally hungry creatures are anxious to snatch up caterpillars by the tons to feed themselves and their babies.

They are the songbirds. Most songbirds do not reproduce on berries and seeds. Instead, more than 95 percent of them and other terrestrial birds turn to diets of protein-rich caterpillars and other insects during the breeding and nesting seasons, scientists say.

Warblers and chickadees, for instance, may rely on caterpillars — eating hundreds per day — for 90 percent of their diet during breeding and nesting periods.

Other larval and adult insects — beetles, flies, crickets — also may be on the menus of nesting birds. But of all the insect food, caterpillars are the best sustenance for baby birds, says University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy, who spoke recently at the Atlanta History Center.

“Caterpillars are soft, high in protein and easy to digest,” Tallamy said. Over a long span of time, most songbirds have learned to time their breeding seasons to coincide with the emergence of caterpillars to provide abundant food for nestlings.

That is especially true for neo-tropical songbirds, such as warblers and tanagers, which are arriving now from winter homes in Latin America for spring nesting in Georgia. A readily available food source is critical because they will quickly commence nesting soon after arrival.

» RELATED: ‘Strange-looking’ songbird in yard might be a juvenile 

» MORE: 20 Atlanta trees you should know

IN THE SKY — From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The Lyrid meteor is visible this weekend — in the northeast from 2 a.m. until dawn. The moon will be new on Wednesday. Mercury is low, and Venus and Mars are very low, in the west just after dark. Venus appears near the moon on Sunday morning. Jupiter is in the east at dusk. Saturn is in the east just before midnight.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

'Happy Days' stars share condolences after Erin Moran's death
'Happy Days' stars share condolences after Erin Moran's death

Ron Howard, Henry Winkler and other stars from the cast of "Happy Days" are sharing their condolences in the wake of Erin Moran's Death. Moran portrayed Joanie Cunningham, Howard's sister on the show. She was found dead Saturday night. “Such sad sad news. RIP Erin. I’ll always choose to remember you on our show making scenes better...
‘Happy Days’ actress Erin Moran dead at 56
‘Happy Days’ actress Erin Moran dead at 56

Erin Moran, best known to TV audiences as Joanie Cunningham in “Happy Days” and its spinoff “Joanie Loves Chachi,” was found dead Saturday. She was 56. Moran played the younger sister of Richie Cunningham for the show’s 11-season run. She reprised the role in the spinoff, which only lasted a season. After the show was...
National Record Store day celebrates vinyl
National Record Store day celebrates vinyl

The plop of the record drop, the scratch of the needle finding its groove - those are just some of the memories that come to mind when you talk about record albums. >> Read more trending news   Record Store Day started as a grassroots celebration of vinyl albums by independent record store owners in 2007, with the first Record Store...
Virginia woman faces rare charge of self-induced abortion
Virginia woman faces rare charge of self-induced abortion

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — The police brought cadaver dogs to search the small redbrick rancher in this suburban community south of Richmond. On that March day more than a year ago, they were seeking "any evidence associated with the delivery and death of a newborn child whether alive or deceased," according to the affidavit for...
Small changes can get home ready for spring market
Small changes can get home ready for spring market

Ah, spring, when “For Sale” signs pop up on lawns across the metro area alongside the azaleas. It’s prime time for sellers, but even with the prospect of a quick sale, homeowners who want to get top dollar may be considering remodeling to up the magnetism of their homes. But it doesn’t take knocking down walls or raising roofs...
More Stories