Do Birds Eat Butterflies? [Here’s Everything You Need to Know]

birds eat butterflies

Birds and butterflies share several qualities, but the biggest question among butterfly watchers and bird lovers has always been whether birds eat butterflies.

Some bird species eat butterflies, moths, butterfly eggs, and larvae, while others are totally uninterested in eating such insects as part of their diet.

Today I’ll get to the bottom of this question once and for all! Read on to discover everything you need to know about birds devouring butterflies!

Do Birds Feed on Butterflies?

Most birds won’t hesitate to eat butterflies, their eggs, larvae, and moth. The exception is that it’s rarely seen.

Birds Feed on Butterflies

However, some butterflies aren’t so tasty to birds. That’s why it’s always rare to see a bird eating a butterfly.

The only time you’ll see a bird eating a butterfly is when it accidentally catches one and decides to eat it anyway (such as by finding one on the ground).

So don’t be amazed if you see an occasional butterfly eaten by a bird; the bird might be hungry or desperate.

Do All Birds Prey on Butterflies?

Almost all birds eat insects, like ants, but not all typically eat butterflies, but that doesn’t mean they won’t if the opportunity arises.

Birds Prey on Butterflies

As a general rule of thumb, you can assume almost any bird will eat some type of butterfly at some point in its life cycle.

However, if a butterfly is too big to swallow, so sneaky to be caught, or too high in a tree to be reached, it isn’t likely to be eaten by a bird.

Types of Birds that Eat Butterflies

Although many types of birds eat butterflies, the most well-known are hummingbirds and sparrows. They’re notorious for eating butterfly eggs and larvae.

Types of Birds that Eat Butterflies

Hummingbirds have long beaks that can reach into a butterfly’s body to extract its inner parts. They often consume parts of the butterfly’s body and drink its juice. 

Other types of birds that enjoy eating butterflies include:

  • Orioles eat various insects, including butterflies, moths, and wasps. The Black-backed Oriole in central Mexico feeds on Monarch Butterflies.
  • Blue Jays eat butterflies occasionally, but their main diet consists of seeds, worms, corn, acorns, nuts, caterpillars, and beetles. 
  • Great Crested Flycatchers in the eastern United States feeds on insects like butterflies, flies, moths, mealworms, wasps, spiders, and beetles. 
  • Grosbeaks are common butterfly predators. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks eat butterfly larvae, while the Black-headed grosbeaks feed on Monarch Butterflies.
  • Northern Mockingbirds feed on insects like butterflies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. They also eat suet and berries.
  • Martins mostly prey on insects while flying. Their favorites include but aren’t limited to butterflies, dragonflies, houseflies, and moths.
  • Tanagers, especially the orange and black western Tanagers, feed on various insects, including butterflies and caterpillars.
  • Warblers consume butterflies, moths, spiders, flies, and caterpillars.

Some birds that don’t eat seeds will eat butterflies occasionally. For instance, parrots aren’t seed-eaters, meaning they won’t miss a chance to devour butterflies when hunting.

However, insects-eating birds are generally tolerant of the toxic components in butterflies. Some are smart enough to extract the toxic butterfly organs before consuming them.

How do Birds Hunt and Eat Butterflies?

Insect-eating birds are among the biggest predators butterflies have to deal with in their life cycle.

Birds are amazing hunters, and they can catch their prey in mid-air. These features make it easier for them to catch flying prey like butterflies or bugs.

Generally, birds eat butterflies like other insects: hunting them down and eating them on the spot. 

Interestingly, birds like the Oriole are intelligent enough to slit open the butterfly’s stomach to remove the toxic organs before consuming them.

Do Birds Let Butterflies Land On Them?

A butterfly landing on a bird doesn’t automatically mean the bird will eat it. This would be because some birds don’t like the taste of butterflies and find them distasteful.

Some birds may peck at the butterfly to scare it away, and some will usually fly away from it or even wait for it to fly away.

Some birds will eat butterflies, and some won’t. It depends on the species of butterfly and the species of bird in question.

What Happens When a Bird Eats a Toxic Butterfly?

If a bird consumes a toxic butterfly such as the Monarch butterfly, the toxic substance in the butterfly might make the bird sick. 

When a Bird Eats a Toxic Butterfly

The bird may experience severe vomiting but won’t die in most cases. 

The bird will learn from experience and no longer prey on toxic butterflies. Birds are intelligent enough to remember the color pattern of the toxic butterfly!

However, if the bird was smart enough to avoid eating an entire butterfly, it might be able to detoxify with its liver before any lasting damage is done. 
But if not, for most birds, death would only happen after prolonged exposure to toxic butterflies or if they ate many of them at once. (This usually only occurs with young birds).

Can Small Birds Eat Big Butterflies?

Butterflies might not be on the menu for most small birds, but they can eat smaller amounts to avoid health issues caused by the toxins.

Small birds can easily catch big butterflies and eat them within no time.

However, it’s important to note that there are different butterfly species, and some are more likely to be eaten by small birds than others. They mostly prefer the Monarch butterfly.

How Often Can a Bird Eat Butterflies?

Even though butterflies are not a bird’s typical prey, some bird species can occasionally eat them. 

But how often a bird can eat butterflies depends on the type of bird and what kind of butterfly it’s eating.

Generally, birds can eat two butterflies in a day because they don’t feed on only one meal.

If you’re looking to feed your birds some butterflies, you can serve them two butterflies along with other food items like safflower seeds, suet, fruits, mealworms, etc.

However, it’s essential to note that you can’t feed butterflies to a bird regularly (like daily) to prevent them from consuming a high quantity of toxic substances that could harm them.

Why Do Some Birds Avoid Eating Monarch Butterflies?

As a bird watcher and nature lover, you may have noticed that some birds appear to avoid eating monarch butterflies. 

There are many reasons, but one of the most important is that Monarch butterflies contain chemicals called cardiac glycosides (or cardenolides) that can make birds very sick. 

There are several cases of baby birds dying from eating high quantities of Monarch butterflies.

However, the Monarch remains the most endangered butterfly species, especially when its predators (the Orioles and Grosbeaks) are concerned. 

Some Birds Avoid Eating Monarch Butterflies

These birds can’t get poisoned, meaning they can consume as many monarch butterflies as possible.

The Monarch butterflies in Mexico don’t have many toxins, making them a favorite prey for birds that can tolerate the little toxins in these butterflies.

How Can You Tell if a Bird has Eaten a Butterfly?

If you see a bird with a speck of butterfly dust (the powder found on the butterfly’s wings) in its mouth, it’s a good sign the bird has consumed the butterfly.

However, several other tell-tale signs may indicate whether or not a bird has eaten a butterfly:

  • You can look for wings and antennae sticking out of the bird’s beak. 
  • Butterfly dust on the bird’s feathers also provides strong evidence. Some birds like to preen their feathers by rubbing butterflies as part of their grooming routine.
  • If you see a bird throwing up and there isn’t anything else around that could make it sick, it might have eaten a toxic butterfly.
  • A full stomach, especially when a bird is around a swarm of butterflies, indicates that your bird has been eating many butterflies.

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