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Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

Posted August 12, 2009 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

That dark, swooping shape in your yard may look like a bat, but it might actually be a bird searching for insects. Some birds, like barn and tree swallows, love bugs like mosquitoes.

Tired of being eaten alive in your own backyard? While citronella candles and insect repellent can help a little, introducing natural insect eaters like birds is an even easier way to clean up the insect issue.

Pest Patrol

There are many species of birds that eat insects; some can eat as many as 1,000 bugs per day! Different birds have appetites for different bugs. For example, the Eastern bluebird prefers grasshoppers, while the purple martin likes flying insects. The downy woodpecker seeks out beetles and moths that live in trees, while the chickadee eats larvae and caterpillars.

Since they are prevalent in the Northeast all summer, I'm going to focus on barn and tree swallows. They're important because their main diet is mosquitoes – a major pest to people and a carrier of West Nile virus and other diseases.

Barn Swallow

  • Lives from Alaska to California, Canada to north Florida
  • Is six inches long with a forked tail and rust-colored belly
  • Nests and attacks intruders as a colony
  • Prefers to live in a barn

Tree Swallow

  • Breeds in North America and winters south of Mexico and in the Caribbean
  • Is five inches long with blue-green feathers, a forked tail, and white belly
  • Nests near water as a flock
  • Will nest in natural or artificial cavities or in bluebird boxes

Behavior

Swallows are named because they catch bugs and eat them in midair. The swooping acrobatics are quite entertaining to watch. The fact that they hunt as pairs or in a group is quite interesting. No crashes occur despite what looks like random (and even suicidal) swoops.

Interestingly, as I observed at the pond at my mother's farm, these birds drink by flying low over water (like ponds) and scooping up some water as they fly over. They also pick up insects that are hovering by the water's surface.

The Photos

All of the photos in this blog entry are of barn and tree swallows on a farm in upstate N.Y. this spring. If you have a field near your home, you can encourage swallows to move in next spring by placing bird boxes in it. Then sit back and enjoy the show!

Resources:

http://duncraft.atom5.com/garden-pests-3312.html

http://www.pestproducts.com/swallows.htm#Barn

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_Swallow

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barn_Swallow

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#1

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 9:05 AM

This post reminds me that I need to buy birdseed, especially since all this wet weather has turned my yard into a mosquito playground.

By the way, I've never actually been a believer of citronella as I always seem to be eaten alive even when it's burning. I was at a cookout the other weekend, however, when someone brought out a oscillating fan and set it to a low setting. How it never occurred to me that a light wind would keep mosquitoes from landing on us is beyond me…

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#2
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Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 10:49 AM

I'm not entirely sold on citronella either. It's an ingredient in many commercial equine fly sprays. One of my horses had an allergic reaction and broke out in huge hives after being sprayed with it a few times!

I still use citronella candles on our deck because they're in pretty jars. Not a fan of the smell, though.

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#3

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 10:49 AM

Reminds me of my halcyon and humid years in New Orleans, when we would gather on summer evenings at Lake Pontchartrain. Thousands and thousands of migrating purple martins would wheel and devour mosquitoes, providing quite an air show.

And as if on cue, just before sunset, they would all head to roost en masse underneath the Causeway, the 26-mile bridge spanning the lake.

Wish there were more bats where I live now--their populations are being affected by white nose syndrome (nasty fungus).

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#4

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 11:05 AM

Swallows are one of the most majestic and graceful birds to take flight. I remember once disturbing a bunch of swallows and they flew around me, getting close, but never hitting or heading straight on before they thoroughly dispersed to another area.

You can usually tell in the night whether it is a bird or a bat by the flapping of the wings. Constant flapping is usually the way of a bat while a bird soars and flaps infrequently in comparison.

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#5

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 12:40 PM

what is the differents between a colony and a flock

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#6
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Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 12:43 PM
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#7

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 2:10 PM

There's a small stream at the edge of my backyard surrounded by a small forest (protected city park) and this makes it almost impossible to enjoy the backyard after dark (WAYYYY too many mosquitoes). I was thinking of attracting bats by building some kind of nesting house in the trees.

Does anybody have any experience in this? Would bats return once the winter is over? (Montreal, Canada)

Thanks in advance...

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#8
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Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/12/2009 2:15 PM

A bat house should attract bats and give them a place to live each year. I know some people who have done this but have not myself. I'm sure there are sites on the web that would help you out and explain where to place one based on environment.

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#9
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Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/13/2009 6:33 AM

Hope you are right. I'll do the research this year and will give it a go for next summer.

Thanks,

rick.

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#10

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/13/2009 8:38 AM

Recently, we observed a yellow bat hanging from the exterior casement which surrounds the front door. We live in Clover, SC (The Northern part of the state; an area within the Piedmont). The bat was there at mid-morning -very hot humid weather (A factor?). It is not unusual to see insects in this vicinity, so it seems likely the bat was feeding, or waiting for its next meal. I thought bats only came out at night, so my question is, might the timing of this observation indicate a dangerously sick (as in Rabid) bat?

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#11
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Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/13/2009 10:50 AM

A pair of possums wandering about here (NE Penn.) in broad daylight was quickly dispatched as being rabid. The local wisdom calls for being extremely wary of any nocturnal critter acting out of turn and, well, not being nocturnal. Don't think I'd want to do the dispatching myself, though.

And I don't know that that's the case with "your" yellow bat. Maybe it's just an anomaly.

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#12

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/13/2009 12:14 PM

Recent research has found that contrary to popular belief, Purple Martins don't eat mosquitoes. Makes sense if you think about how small a target and how little food mass a mosquito provides.

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#13

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/13/2009 12:51 PM

The damn things built a nest on my back porch and every time I go outside, I get attacked. As soon as fall is here and they move south, I will tear down the nest and block the nesting site so they can not return. If they try, I will be waiting with a shotgun next year.

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#14

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/16/2009 4:41 AM

Try setting up a mini wetland in your backyard. It will attract birds, dragonflies and frogs, whch will help greatly reduce the mosquito population.

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#15

Re: Think it’s a Bat? It Might be a Bird!

08/18/2009 7:00 AM

Birds and bats are great, do not misunderstand me, I would not be without them.

But large clumps of Lavender growing around your house and garden, especially on the side where the wind mostly comes from will keep away a lot of nasty critters like Mosquito's, but the Bees and certain other insects love it!!!

I have seen Lavender growing all over Europe, so there must be a type for where you live, search it out.

We lost most of our English Lavender in the last winter, Germany was simply too cold for that type (-27°C in January for several days and under -20°C for a few weeks), although it had flourished for 15 years or more in our garden. I had hoped that it would handle that cold better.

Now we have to try and find a new type that accepts colder conditions.....any tips will be welcome, thanks in advance.

I have marked this off topic myself......!

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Andy Germany (1); Anonymous Poster (3); DVader1000 (1); engineermanmayer (1); Jaxy (2); Rick@cae (2); SavvyExacta (2); sue (2); TechoutReach (1)

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