Halloween Edition

October 2014

Slideshow October 2, 2014

Along Came a Spider

They’re stealthy. They’re quick. They have far too many legs. They’re spiders, and they’ve been vilified for centuries. They’re not all bad, though. Spiders perform a great many ecosystem services, from agricultural pest control to disease prevention. They’re especially beneficial to native birds. Here are some key reasons a true bird lover should leave that spider alone.

Spiders as Bird Food

Spiders are like an energy bar for birds—the bite-sized packs of protein are incredibly nutritious. This is especially important during migration, when birds are physically taxed and need much more food to keep going. Many species of smaller birds, particularly hummingbirds, will also take advantage of a sticky spider web and steal the captured insects from the silk. It’s the bird equivalent of a convenience meal!

  • A Mountain Chickadee with a delicious spider.Photo © Mike Wisnicki

    A Mountain Chickadee with a delicious spider.
    Photo © Mike Wisnicki

  • This Carolina Chickadee visits the snack bar.Photo © Ed Schneider

    This Carolina Chickadee visits the snack bar.
    Photo © Ed Schneider

  • A flycatcher with a flycatcher. This Eastern Phoebe has a large spider. Photo © Barb D’Arpino

    A flycatcher with a flycatcher. This Eastern Phoebe has a large spider.
    Photo © Barb D’Arpino

  • This Yellow-rumped Warbler is sneaking a snack right out of a web.Photo © Mary Anne Pfitzinger

    This Yellow-rumped Warbler is sneaking a snack right out of a web.
    Photo © Mary Anne Pfitzinger

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Spiderwebs and Nests

Many species of birds use spider silk when constructing their nests. It has the advantage of being strong while also being flexible. As the nestlings grow, the nest can stretch with them, and the silk allows for easy repair in the case of damage.

  • This hummingbird nest shows spider webs in use.Photo © Laurence Sloma

    This hummingbird nest shows spider webs in use.
    Photo © Laurence Sloma

  • This Red-eyed Vireo nest makes great use of spider webs.Photo © Kelly Colgan Azar

    This Red-eyed Vireo nest makes great use of spider webs.
    Photo © Kelly Colgan Azar

  • This interesting hummingbird nest uses spider webs.Photo © Anne Elliott

    This interesting hummingbird nest uses spider webs.
    Photo © Anne Elliott

Find a nest made with spider silk? (or just a cool nest or nesting bird?)

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Spiders as Nest Pest Control

House Wrens have discovered an ingenious way of keeping mite levels under control. While the nests of other birds are ridden with the parasites, the House Wren places spider egg sacs inside her nest. When the egg sacs hatch, the baby spiders will have an abundance of mites to eat, and the House Wren nestlings will be thankful. Talk about a win-win.

  • Spider eggs sacs in a house wren nest.Photo © Ellen F

    Spider eggs sacs in a house wren nest.
    Photo © Ellen F

Make a House Wren Nest Box

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More About Spiders and Birds

Spiders aren’t always a bird’s best friend, though. The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula does not prey primarily on birds, but it won’t pass up the opportunity if a bird stumbles onto its path. Thankfully, it can only be found in the northern swamps of South America, but even in the United States, bird-eating spiders exist. Songbirds will occasionally become stuck in spiderwebs and die there, because their struggles to escape only further entangle them. Sometimes a spider will cut the bird free, then repair its web.

Because web repair is costly in time and in nutrients, spiders such as the garden orb weaver will weave a visible pattern into their webs, called a stabilimenta. Many arachnologists believe the stabilimenta serves as a warning to birds and other large animals that the web is there, thus saving the spider the trouble of repairing it when a large animal comes crashing through. It has been documented, however, in rare cases, that a golden orb weaver will take advantage of a snared bird, encase it in silk, and eat it. These predation methods are mostly opportunistic, and always involve smaller birds such as hummingbirds and kinglets.

When it comes to spiders, we may want to squash them on sight, but clearly the benefits of having them around outweigh the dangers. So take the time to hug your creepy-crawly neighbors today…or maybe not.

This Month’s Articles

A Murder in the City

Research Recap October 30, 2014

All Those Pumpkins!!

Factoid October 23, 2014

Myths of the Ghost Bird

Interactive October 16, 2014

One of the Flock

From Our Data October 9, 2014

Along Came a Spider

Slideshow October 2, 2014

18 Comments

  1. Dawn says:

    What a great article. Loved the spider eggs in the nest the best. 😀

  2. Sharon says:

    As a young person, spiders freaked me out. Now that I’m much much older (!!) I go out of my way to protect them and their homes. The best thing I ever found was a “spider-trapper” (I think at Lee Valley.) If the spider doesn’t look like one I want to capture with a Kleenex and my hand (too big, too fast, too whatever) I just pop the trapper on top of it, let the little trap door gently close (being careful not to harm the spider’s legs), carry it outdoors to the garden, release it, and wave good-bye for now. I recommend these things!!

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      That sounds like a gentle and easy way to relocate spiders in the home. I usually use a plastic cup and a piece of paper to relocate the freakier ones, but most of the time I don’t bother and just leave them alone.

      • Sharon says:

        I’ve woken up with spider bites that itch for days far too many times to willingly share the bedroom with them. :)

        • Nancy Wooton says:

          You might want to look for bed bugs, before you blame the spiders.

          • Nancy Jo Austin says:

            I agree with Nancy. I have only been bitten once and that was not in the US. Our house was built in the summer so it had lots of bugs in the basement. For the first couple of years, whenever I found a spider upstairs I would take it downstairs and tell it to set up shop. After a few years I had to start moving egg cases outside when found them. I know they are still finding something to eat down there or I wouldn’t have so many. From now on I’ll put the egg cases in the bluebird houses!

  3. David Matheny says:

    Wonder if black widows and brown recluse are poisonous for birds to eat….and how those hatching spiders in nests not bother bird babies…

  4. osmia says:

    The spider egg sacs in the house wren nests is fascinating. Had never heard of that before.

  5. Tim says:

    I’m not aware of any poisonous spiders. There are venomous spiders, to be sure, but those are relatively rare (and most birds probably don’t have much opportunity to eat black widows or brown recluses; both those species are nocturnal and hide in crevices during the day).

    Also, most web-building spiders are essentially helpless outside their webs (and their chelicerae are poorly developed for defense). If they are pressed so their mouthparts are against the skin, they might bite, but otherwise they’re like fish out of water. I doubt most spider-eating birds every experience a bite, even eating many spiders daily. Bee-eating birds, on the other hand, have to learn how to remove the stingers of bees and wasps in order to avoid being stung. (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Merops_ornatus/)

  6. Dr ketki says:

    WONDERFUL ARTICLE
    IT TEACHES ALL ABOUT WEB OF LIFE – ONE CANNOT DO WITHOUT ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING IS INTERLINKED.

    • Diane Carr says:

      Huntsman Spider catches Birds to eat in Australia and in that country they have the poisonous funnel web that feeds on birds and will kill a human,

  7. Desiree M Johnson says:

    I never kill spiders ’cause it’s bad luck …. Plus they eat bugs which I’m not a big fan of .

  8. Brian Palmer says:

    I have heard that spider silk is stronger than a steel wire of the same diameter.

  9. Suzanne Coberly says:

    “They’re stealthy. They’re quick. They have far too many legs” – and you should add “they are very yummy!”

    We watch many birds (chickadees, juncos, wrens) go along the outside of our house and pull spiders out of the cracks. I leave the spiders alone because of this and because they eat the non-native ants in our house – I’d rather have spiders than ants any day- and they are smarter than you think. For example, we had a wolf spider come into our house once. My husband captured it, put it out in the garden just at the edge of the porch. Half an hour later, he was back! We had to go way up on the hill to keep him out of the nice warm house.

  10. alicedavid says:

    Hey! Your articles are always informative and i love reading them. The birds use these spiders as food and their silk to make nests. I feel that these birds would also sometimes get in trapped in their silk or web.

  11. Carol Fuson says:

    any spiders I find in my house I take outside. They are good for eating other pests. I like them as long as they stay
    outside.

  12. That was great! I really like this materials! I hope that you’ll add here more content of this type later.

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