Oct 30, 2019 | Featured Web Article

Eating Styles Among Backyard Birds

What do American robins, American crows, and European starlings have in common? They all are content to eat a little bit of everything.
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We tend to think a lot about holiday meals and seasonal treats as the year winds down and the weather turns chilly. Have you ever considered if and how the changing seasons impact what birds eat? Get ready to learn about birds' four main diet types!

Seasonalists

Much like some humans drink iced macchiatos in the summer and switch to hot pumpkin spice lattes when the weather turns chilly, many birds change their diets depending on the season. Swainson’s hawks prey on smaller birds and mice to feed their nestlings in the summer, and then switch to large insects when their offspring can fend for themselves. Likewise, sparrows and grosbeaks eat fruits and seeds in the wintertime after spending the breeding season catching bugs for their young.

Generalists

What do American robins, American crows, and European starlings have in common? They all are content to eat a little bit of everything. These generalists do not observe a specific hunting or foraging strategy. Instead, they eat whatever morsels they happen upon as they go about their day.

Opportunists

Like generalists, opportunist birds take what they can get when it comes to finding food. Unlike generalists, once they find an abundant food source, they continue exploiting that source until they exhaust it. These birds often ignore other potential food items while the abundant supply remains available. Gulls dining solely on grasshoppers in a freshly plowed field are one example of opportunist feeding. The birds could seek out other foods to consume, but will most likely stay until no grasshoppers remain.

Specialists

Birds observing a specialist diet typically eat only one type of food. For instance, cedar waxwings specialize in eating a variety of fruits, American goldfinches primarily eat seeds from different types of sunflowers, and ferruginous hawks hunt for live prey of a specific size. An extreme example of a specialist eater is Florida's snail kite, which uses its long talons and curved beak to feast on native apple snails.



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  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020
  • New to birding...newbie question. We spotted what we thought was a Sapsucker at our patio feeders in December. The folks at our birding supply store told us that Sapsuckers are only here in Summer months and what we saw was a Flicker. I thought I new what a Flicker was and this did not look like a Flicker. It was thinner and more smooth looking but did have the Woodpecker Bill.
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020
  • We just signed up and get your magazine via email. Will we be receiving a printed copy?Ed [email protected]
    by Edmund Steinman, Wed, 08 Jan 2020