Bluebirds and Bugs

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

We know it’s fall when Western Conifer Seed Bugs show up on the warm side of the house or even inside the house; what do we do about them?

We could catch them and toss them outside, but goodness, do they smell bad! And that smell can linger after a thorough soap and water scrubbing. No wonder they get called “Stinkbugs”! Well, a bit of research informed me that they are true bugs; in fact, they are members of the family called Leaf-footed Bugs. They have 4-segmented antennae; they have exoskeletons; they feed on plants; and the wide part of their leg gives them the “Leaf-footed” name.
They have scent glands on their thorax and emit that signature scent for defense – much as skunks do! But they are not “stink bugs”. Chemical analysis of that scent reveals that it is only similar to the formula of true Stink Bugs.
Western Conifer Seed Bugs are native to the US. They aren’t particularly hazardous to plants or humans. They don’t bite. They are adult bugs looking for a warm home for the winter. Their life cycle depends on their finding winter shelter. They have one generation a year. Much like Mourning Cloak Butterflies, they winter as adults and come out in spring ready to feed, lay eggs, and disappear. The larvae go through four molt stages throughout the summer, finally emerging as adults in August.

Bluebird, Western with Western Conifer seed bug

We noticed that Western Bluebirds mobbed the house on sunny fall days, raiding the gutters and checking the warm roof, and finally we were lucky enough to identify what they were so hungry for! So we set about to cultivate the bluebirds’ friendship! What else do they like? Water!

Bluebird in a cupful of water in a rock depression
Western Bluebirds in a plastic plant tray that holds a gallon of water
Western Bluebird fledglings in the dog’s water dish

Now we enjoy the company of those families all summer as they raise their young and come in for a drink or a bath. In the fall, they bring in their friends – and we have far fewer Western Conifer Seed bugs than we used to!

All birds enjoy the gift of water; keep the container clean to help ward off shared diseases and fill it regularly. I predict you will have lots of avian company – and maybe you’ll have fewer stinky bugs in the house, too!

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