Do Birds Eat Cicadas? A Fascinating Avian Behavior Insight

folder_openHemiptera, Insecta
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Cicadas are insects known for their distinctive, loud mating calls and periodic mass emergences. With over 1,300 species worldwide, these insects can occasionally become a food source for various animals, including birds.

When periodical cicadas emerge in large numbers, it becomes a veritable feast for many insect-eating predators. In such situations, birds can capitalize on the abundant food supply. Alongside birds, other animals like frogs, fish, and raccoons also take the opportunity to consume these insects.

Interestingly, studies have shown that some bird populations might have larger clutch sizes during the years when periodical cicadas emerge. This indicates that the availability of cicadas as a food source could potentially impact the reproduction and population dynamics of certain bird species.

Birds That Eat Cicadas

Common Bird Species

Birds such as crows, jays, woodpeckers, and cuckoos are known to eat cicadas.

Other examples include:

  • Sparrows
  • Robins
  • Bluebirds
  • Northern cardinals
  • Gray catbirds

These bird species find cicadas to be a nutritious food source during their emergence period.

Predator Birds

Birds of prey, such as falcons and hawks, also consume cicadas when they can.

For example, the American kestrel, a small falcon, eats cicadas, as well as the Red-tailed hawk.

Cicada Specialists

While not solely dependent on cicadas, certain bird species, like the Loggerhead shrike, are known to be particularly adept at hunting these insects.

Here is a comparison table of some features:

Bird Species Diet Skill at Hunting Cicadas
American kestrel Insects, small mammals Good
Red-tailed hawk Small mammals, birds Moderate
Loggerhead shrike Insects, small animals Excellent

Birds benefit from the cicada emergence, but at the same time, many cicadas escape predation due to their sheer numbers, making this a balanced relationship between predator and prey.

Cicadas as a Food Source

Nutritional Benefits

Cicadas are insects that provide a valuable food source for birds and other predators. They’re rich in nutrients, like:

  • protein: essential for bird muscle development
  • iron: helps carry oxygen in the bloodstream
  • vitamins: support overall bird health

Here’s a comparison table of some nutritional values Cicadas offer:

Nutrition Cicadas content
Protein High
Iron Moderate
Vitamins Moderate

Impact on Bird Populations

Cicadas benefit birds by providing significant amounts of nourishment during their mass emergence events. As they are clumsy fliers, they become easy prey. This results in:

  • Increase in bird survival rates
  • Boost in reproduction due to the abundance of food (eggs)

However, when Brood X cicadas emerge, their massive presence could result in:

  • Birds overeating and impacting their digestive system
  • Temporary disturbances in the ecosystem

Emergence and Predation Patterns

Annual Cicadas

Annual cicadas are cicadas that emerge every year, typically during summer months. They serve as prey for a variety of birds, such as:

  • Robins
  • Starlings
  • Mockingbirds

Periodical Cicadas

Periodical cicadas, like those of Brood X, emerge less frequently and usually have 13-year or 17-year cycles. Their emergence leads to an abundance of food for birds, which may result in:

  • Increase in number of bird eggs
  • Higher survival rate for songbird nests

For instance, during the 2004 17-year cicada emergence, little cerulean warblers experienced higher nest survival rates.

Comparison Table

Aspect Annual Cicadas Periodical Cicadas
Emergence Frequency Every year Every 13 or 17 years
Prey for birds Various species Larger number of birds
Effect on birds Regular food supply Increased nest survival and egg production

The nymphs of both types burrow into the ground, but periodical cicadas have longer cycles of 6-7 weeks before hatching, leading to a significant emergence event.

The Ecosystem’s Role in Cicadas and Bird Behavior

Mammals and Reptiles That Consume Cicadas

Cicadas play a significant role in the ecosystem, providing food for a variety of animals. Mammals and reptiles such as:

  • Moles
  • Mallards
  • Rodents
  • Marsupials

These creatures consume cicadas, especially when they emerge from underground as part of their life cycle.

Insect Predators of Cicadas

In addition to mammals and reptiles, cicadas face predation from other insects and arachnids, including:

  • Ants
  • Beetles
  • Mites
  • Spiders

These insect predators take advantage of cicadas’ transparent wings and limited flying abilities, targeting them while they are vulnerable.

Effect of Fungus on Cicadas

Cicadas are also affected by fungi, which can cause various diseases and infections in these insects. The fungus has the ability to alter cicadas’ behaviors, making them more susceptible to predation.

Bird Behavior and Cicadas Consumption

Many bird species, such as turkeys and songbirds, benefit from the emergence of cicadas as a food source. They are drawn to areas with high cicada populations and their consumption of cicadas can help control these insect populations. Bird eggs may also thrive during cicada emergence due to the abundance of food.

Though cicadas serve as prey for a variety of animals, they are not toxic to mammals, making them a viable food source for pets and humans. In fact, some people consider cicadas a delicacy.

Animal Group Examples of Cicada Predators Impact on Cicadas Impact on Ecosystem
Mammals Moles, Mallards Consume cicadas when underground Reduce cicada population
Reptiles Rodents, Marsupials Prey on adult cicadas Maintain a balance in the ecosystem
Insect Ants, Beetles, Mites, Spiders Predation on cicadas, limiting flight Limit the expansion of cicada populations
Birds Turkeys, Songbirds Consume cicadas, increased egg survival Control cicada populations, support bird reproduction

Understanding Cicadas

Species and Lifecycles

Cicadas are insects belonging to the order Hemiptera, with over 1,300 species worldwide. Most of these are found in the tropics. They undergo a unique lifecycle involving nymphs and emergence.

  • Nymphs: Juvenile cicadas that live underground for years, feeding on tree roots.
  • Emergence: Nymphs transform into adult cicadas and emerge from the ground in large numbers.

Some cicadas, known as periodical cicadas, synchronously emerge every 13 or 17 years in massive groups. This phenomenon is called brood emergence.

Physical Characteristics

Cicadas are easily recognized by their distinct physical features:

  • Wings: They have two pairs of transparent and veined wings.
  • Colors: Cicadas exhibit various colors, ranging from black to green, often with patterns.

Here’s a comparison table highlighting some differences between cicadas and locusts, another type of insect that exhibits swarming behavior:

Cicadas Locusts
Lifespan 2-17 years 3-5 months
Food source Plant fluids (xylem) Vegetation
Swarm behavior Emergence in cycles Mass migration

Cicadas play an essential role in the forest ecosystem, providing food for many bird and mammal species that feed on them. These prey-predator interactions contribute to the overall health and balance of the ecosystem.

Humans and Cicadas

Pets and Cicadas

Cicadas are not considered harmful to people or pets. While they may be seen as a nuisance due to their loud mating noises, they do not pose any direct threat. Some pets, like cats and dogs, might find cicadas intriguing or even enjoy playing with or eating them. In fact, various creatures such as lizards, snakes, and birds, also feast on cicadas.

Common Cicada Predators:

  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Birds
  • Mammals (squirrels, raccoons)

Cicadas in Public Spaces

Cicadas are often encountered in public spaces like parks and gardens, and while they may not cause any direct harm, people should be aware of their presence. In states like Maryland and North Carolina, cicadas are a part of the natural ecosystem and will be encountered by residents during their emergence period.

Cicada Encounters:

  • Walking in parks
  • Birdwatching
  • Gardening

Cicadas contribute to the local environment by providing nourishment to various animals, such as birds, lizards, arachnids, and even ants. Their presence also indicates a healthy ecosystem, as they are sensitive to changes like pollution or habitat loss.

Species Benefit from Cicadas
Birds Increased clutch sizes, thriving population
Arachnids Additional food source, population boost
Lizards Increased food availability
Ants Prey upon dead cicadas, aiding decomposition

Since cicadas are commonly consumed by many animals, human interaction with cicadas may also lead to more opportunities for birdwatching or observing other wildlife feeding on the cicada buffet. Birdwatchers can spot various bird species, such as gulls and herons, feasting on cicadas during their mass emergence.

In conclusion, while cicadas may initially be seen as a nuisance, they play an essential role in the ecosystem and provide various benefits to humans and animals alike. By understanding their behavior and life cycle, we can better appreciate their presence and the role they play in our natural environment.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Cicada from Australia: Double Drummer

 

Hello – afraid i’m back again
Hello Bugman
The last time I had an identification problem you were kind enough and able to help (A Bee Assassin Bug) – This time it’s the largest Cicada I have ever seen! It’s overall length is 90mm and body length is 50mm. I have chased all the cicada sites I can find and while I think it may be a "Black Prince" I have not been able to find a pix that identifies it. I don’t like bothering you but if you can identify it off the top of your head I’d sure appreciate it – If not please don’t go to any trouble, it’s not life or death!. Hope you and yours have a great Christmas, we are enjoying a hot one at 36deg C.
Best regards
Keith Power
Toowoomba Qld
Australia

Merry Christmas to you as well Keith.
We were curious to give you some statistics of relative size of Cicadas worldwide as we have seen some enormous mounted specimens. Wikipedia provided the following information: “Adult cicadas, sometimes called imagines , are usually between 2 and 5 cm (1 to 2 inches ) long, although there are some tropical species that reach 15 cm (6 in), e.g. the Pomponia imperatoria from Malaysia.” In that sense, your cicada is an average sized Cicada. We have located a Scribbly Gum site dedicated to Australian Cicadas and there are many interesting colorful common names. The site does picture the Black Prince, and it is not your cicada.

Update (02/06/2006):
Cicada from Toowoomba
Dear Sir,
Some of your Aussie cicadas may be identified from the book “Australian Cicadas” by MS Moulds (NSW Uni Press, 1990) and available on www.abebooks listings. The largest Australian species is Thopha saccata (“double drummer”) which was the photo posted by Keith from Toowoomba on 24th Dec 2005. There are around 8 other cicada species from the Toowoomba area.
Regards,
David.

Letter 2 – Cicada from Borneo: Tacua speciosa

 

Best Cicada
The best cicada I found this summer. Kinabalu Park, Sabah. East Malaysia.
Chris

Hi again Chris,
We believe your cicada is Tacua speciosa.

Letter 3 – Cicada from Bhutan

 

What is it?
August 28, 2009
Please help! I would like to identify this insect that I found on my windowsill in Thimpu, Bhutan. Your help MUCH appreciated. I fell in love with it. I should at least know what it is!
Entomophile
Thimpu, Bhutan

Cicada
Cicada

Dear Entomophile,
Though we don’t know the exact species, we can tell you that your insect is a Cicada.

Letter 4 – Cicada from Australia: maybe Golden Drummer???

 

Found him on campsite near the beach in Summer
March 5, 2010
Hello, i have just came back from a year down under and have some amazing pics of some of the strangest bugs and animals and insects i have ever seen. But there’s one in particular that we have to find out what it is. He found us on our campsite in Broome, Western Australia last Christmas, that’s there summer.
He was attacked by a bird and was shocked and we saved him. He stayed very still for maybe 20mins and then very loudly flew away happy to be breathing I’d imagine.
We traveled all of Australia and only ever came across this guy once. Maybe he’s native to the West Coast. Other than that i can’t say much more about him, I hope you guys can end our confusion, thanks.
Ozbug
Broome, Western Australia

Possibly Golden Drummer Cicada

Hi Ozbug,
This is a Cicada, and there are over 200 different species in Australia.  We could not locate an exact match for yours, and the angle of view is not ideal to see the markings, but your Cicada looks similar to the Golden Drummer Cicada, Thopha colorata.  We found a nice photo on Flickr.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to verify or correct our identification.

Letter 5 – Cicada Exuvia from Madagascar

 

Brown bug with debris from Madagascar
April 27, 2010
Hi
I don’t even know where to start research with this bug. It was on a post about 3 feet off the ground in Madagascar in summer. It’s relatively slow moving and about .75″ long. Can you help?
Thanks,
Theresa
Andasibe, central Madagascar

Cicada Exuvia

Hi Theresa,
The bug in your photo is actually the Exuvia of a Cicada, and the insect had previously left the premises.   Insects have an exoskeleton that must be shed before the insect can grow or metamorphose.  Immature Cicadas live underground for many years, and as they mature, they crawl to the surface and climb a tree or other vertical structure several feet before beginning the final metamorphosis.  The exoskeleton splits and the adult winged Cicada emerges, leaving behind the cast off exoskeleton known as the exuvia.  Exuvia of Cicadas and Dragonflies are often noticed, and they are probably among the most commonly submitted insect remains to our website.

Letter 6 – Cicada Exuviae from Japan

 

Subject: What bug is this?!
Location: Gunma, Japan
August 7, 2012 12:55 pm
I am an exchange student in Japan and I can’t place this bug that I saw today (8/7/12). I live in Gunma, Japan and it’s the middle of summer at about 100 degrees everyday with 90%+ humidity. I’ll keep searching through the site but I haven’t been able to find anything yet.
Signature: Talia

Exuviae of Cicadas

Hi Talia,
These are the exuviae or shed exoskeletons of Cicadas.  The immature Cicadas live underground for years, and when they have matured and conditions are right, they dig to the surface, molt, leave behind the exuvia, and become winged adults.  Many Cicadas produce audible calls, some quite loud, and the noise of Cicadas buzzing from the trees is a common summer sound in many parts of the world.  It is interesting that there are so many exuviae in one location in your photograph.

Thank you so much! I have seen many cicadas in my life, mostly due to Japan being filled with them, but to see so many insects in one spot made me think them to be something else. Since it was just the exoskeleton left behind, the coloration looked different and seemed like an entirely different insect to me instead of the obvious answer of a cicada. I had heard a loud cicada chirping from that tree and when i saw the exoskeletons i backed away thinking they could be dangerous since i didn’t know what they were. Thank you very much for being so expedient in answering my question.

Letter 7 – Cicada Exuvia: Multiple Views

 

Subject: Do You Want Pictures of a Cicada Ecdysis/Molt?
Location: Duncanville, Texas
September 26, 2013 7:12 pm
Hi bugman,
Cicada’s are a buzzin’ in Texas this time of year (late in the Summer [not Fall]). I found several molts, and took several pictures of one. Would you be interested in including this one on your website? Sorry about the side view. I’ll try to send you a better picture. I also have head and tail views as well. Notice the dried mud on the legs, and also the siphon/tube of a mouth. Very cool. Unfortunately, you don’t get to see those cool colors on the molt.
Signature: Keith Minor

Cicada Exuvia:  Ventral View
Cicada Exuvia: Ventral View

Hi Keith,
Thanks for the Texas Cicada report.  Cicadas do make quite a din and it is a sound we miss in Los Angeles because our local species don’t have the same internal amplification systems as the more Eastern species.  This might be the first ventral view we have ever received of a Cicada exuvia.

Cicada Exuvia:  Dorsal View
Cicada Exuvia: Dorsal View

Hi Daniel,
Glad I could add to the wealth of great info on your website : )
I’ll get you a better picture of the side view.  I’m not sure why it came out kind of grainy.
I have a couple of questions:
On the mid-ventral side, what is that round “belly button” disk?
Also, I see some ligament looking features around the opening of the old exoskeleton.  Is that from the cicada or is it just some plant material?
Why is there so much dirt on the legs and mouth?  I assume from the shapes of the legs that that cicada’s are diggers.  Are they looking for food?
Can you tell males from females from the molt?
Oh!  If you include my blurb, can you change “late Fall” to “late Summer”?  I’ve got Fall on the brain, waiting for the TX August/September heat to finally let up.
Kind regards,
Keith

Cicada Exuvia:  Lateral View
Cicada Exuvia: Lateral View

Hi Keith,
In response to your questions:
1.  We don’t know what the “belly button” disk is.
2.  The ligament features come from the cicada, but we are unable to tell you exactly what they are.
3.  The dirt question we know.  Cicada nymphs live for several years, or in the case of some Periodical Cicadas, 17 years, underground where they feed by sucking nourishment from the roots of plants.  When they are nearing maturity, they dig to the surface and molt as part of the metamorphosis process.  Dirt that stuck to the nymph as it dug its way to the surface remained behind with the exuvia after molting.
4.  We do not have the necessary skills to sex the uxuvia of Cicadas.
We will correct the season.

Cicada Exuvia:  Frontal View
Cicada Exuvia: Frontal View

P.S.  Thanks for the additional images.

Cicada Exuvia:  Posterior View
Cicada Exuvia: Posterior View

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for fielding my questions.  I have a keen fascination with insects, yet I know very little about even the ones I see every year.  Although they are often called “lower organisms”, they are amazingly complex and diverse animals.
As promised, please find attached a better side view of the molt.  I accidentally cracked the left leg, so I had to turn the shell around and get the right side instead.  Just as well.
I will try to send more close ups of insects in the future, as the opportunities lend themselves.
Kind regards,
Keith

Cicada Exuvia:  Lateral View
Cicada Exuvia: Lateral View

 

 

Letter 8 – Cicada Exuviae

 

Subject: What is this bug?
Location: Kentucky
October 16, 2013 1:54 pm
I keep seeing these bugs on my tree out front of my house. I am curious to see what it is but cannot find it online. It’s gross and large. I’m not from the country – where I now reside. What is this bug?! (:
Signature: Super curious, slightly afraid lol.

Cicada Exuviae
Cicada Exuviae

Dear Super curious,
We love your photo of the Exuviae or shed exoskeletons of Cicadas.  The Exuviae were left behind when the larval Cicadas, which spent several years living underground, dug their way to the surface, climbed a vertical feature like a tree or a wall, and molted for the final time.  The adult winged Cicada emerges and the adult males fill the air with a most unmelodious yet nostalgic sound.  We suspect your Exuviae belong to the Dogday Harvestfly or a near relative in the genus
Tibicen

Letter 9 – Cicada Exuviae from Australia and Double Drummer Cicada

 

Subject: Thousands of these things spotted!
Location: New South Wales, Australia
January 13, 2014 5:15 am
Dear bug experts,
While wandering around a forest in the Hawkesbury River area of NSW, Australia, we saw thousands of these things clinging to every tree. Any idea what they are please?
Cheers!
Signature: Curious bug watcher

Cicada Exuviae
Cicada Exuviae

Dear Curious bug watcher,
Did you hear a cacophony of sound emanating from the treetops?  These are the exuviae or shed exoskeletons of Cicada nymphs that have been living underground awaiting maturity. When conditions are right, they sometimes emerge in exorbitant numbers, molt for the last time and emerge as winged adults.  Adult Cicadas produce loud sounds during the mating season.  Australia is blessed with an incredible diversity of Cicada species, and each year during the summer months down under, we receive images of adult Cicadas.  We just posted a photo of a Cherry Eye a few days ago.

Cicada Exuviae
Cicada Exuviae

Wow – thanks Daniel!
That’s a brilliantly informative answer, and puts me out of my misery 🙂  You are spot on as usual.
Yes, it was incredibly noisy, and now that you mention it, none of the things moved. I had given up trying to search myself (though did learn a lot about beetles in the process).
PS, I have copied another photo to Dropbox which looks like the adult after it emerged. I didn’t link it to the exoskelton when I was researching it, but it seems to confirm the exact species I was listening to. Take a look if you’re interested, here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/xvxehurjqpiyoa6/DSC03507.JPG
Thanks again!

Cicada
Double Drummer Cicada

Hi Chris,
We are really excited to be able to add the adult Cicada to the posting.  It appears to us to be Double Drummer,
Thopha saccata, and according to the Brisbane Insect Website, they are:  “the largest cicadas in Australia. They make loudest sound in the insect world. They are brown to orange-brown in colours with black pattern. On each side of the males’ abdomen there are the small pockets, the double drums, which are used to amplify the sound they produce. Females do not have the double drums but with longer abdomen tip.”  Your individual has very tattered wings, but appears to be a male.

Great work again, Daniel! Fascinating info.
Yes, I noticed the wings were in poor shape too. And as to the noise, imagine being unable to hear someone talking right next to you without them shouting… That’s what they sounded like.
Chris.

Letter 10 – Cicada Exuviae in Las Vegas

 

Subject: What is this bug???
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
July 21, 2016 11:12 am
I’ve been seeing this shell/skin of a big sll over the exterior of my house walls. Uncertain what it is.
Signature: Thanks so much! – AD

Cicada Exuviae
Cicada Exuviae

Dear AD,
These are the exuviae or shed exoskeletons of Cicadas.  The Cicada nymphs live underground for several years (up to 17 for the 17 Year Locust or Periodical Cicada) and then as they mature, they dig to the surface, molt for the last time, and fly off as adult Cicadas.  Cicadas are among the best known “music makers” of the insect world, and according to the BBC Earth, they may be the loudest insects on the planet.  Cicada Mania mentions other loud Cicadas.  Natalie, our coworker, just returned from Las Vegas and she was quite surprised to have heard Cicadas.  Perhaps you are having a significant population explosion of Cicadas this year.  According to Hub Pages in a 2012 posting and Las Vegas Sun in a 2014 posting, they are Apache Cicadas, a name we proposed as a common name for
Diceroprocta apache back in 2010.

Letter 11 – Cicada Exuvia on Pizza Box

 

Subject:  What’s that bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Mississauga, Ontario
Date: 07/20/2019
Time: 05:36 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this on my pizza box outside today
How you want your letter signed:  Julie

Cicada Exuvia

Dear Julie,
This is the shed exoskeleton or exuvia of a Cicada.  A Cicada is a winged insect that makes noise in trees and spends years underground as a nymph.  When maturity nears, the nymph digs to the surface and molts one final time, emerging as an adult winged Cicada.  The nymph generally climbs a vertical surface, like a wall or tree trunk or fence post.  The Cicada that emerged from this exuvia selected your discarded pizza box.

Letter 12 – Cicada Exuvia from Japan

 

Subject:  Beetle mania
Geographic location of the bug:  Okinawa Japan
Date: 08/26/2021
Time: 11:02 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This looks like a type of scarab, but due to its near solid light brown color, I’m not able to pin point it. Its about 1.5-2 inches long. Was hanging out under the overhang of the house.
How you want your letter signed:  Mike

Cicada Exuvia

Dear Mike,
This is not a Beetle.  It is the exuvia or cast off exoskeleton of a Cicada.

Oh wow much different looking than the cicada I’m used to seeing…. Thanks!
Mike

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Cicadas

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