Jun 26, 2019 | Featured Web Article

How Do Birds Eat?

A blue jay with a mouthful! You might observe them hauling off more peanuts than they could possibly eat, making several trips from your feeder to their cache site.
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Obtaining nourishment isn't a simple grab-and-go process among birdlife. In fact, feeding can be downright challenging for many species. To be able to eat, birds have to first search for food and then process what they find in order to make it digestible, tasks that are complicated for even your everyday backyard visitors.

Titmice and Chickadees

If you have titmice and chickadees in your backyard, you've no doubt noticed how they'll snatch up a seed and quickly flee the scene. This practice allows them to eat in peace, without having to confront more aggressive birds at the feeder. Because of their diminutive size, a small morsel of food fulfills a much higher percentage of their caloric needs compared to the same bite for a larger bird. Therefore, although this behavior involves a lot of movement, the strategy is actually energy cost-effective.

Crows and Jays

Rather than eating at the feeders they frequent, these corvids will carry their food long distances away, to cache their snacks for later consumption. You might observe them hauling off more peanuts than they could possibly eat, making several trips from your feeder to their cache site. Jays and crows perform this behavior at wild food sources as well, such as acorn-laden oak trees.

Owls

Owls, particularly those of the smaller species, need to immobilize their prey after they catch it so that their meal won't fight back or escape. Their solution is to decapitate their catch before they swallow it whole or carry it off to their cache.

Accipiters

Hawks will often pluck their prey directly off the ground, turning their own bodies around in multiple directions as they do so. What they leave behind when they finally fly off with their kill is a circle of inedible feathers or fur, about three feet in diameter.

Thrashers (and Thrashing Birds)

The thrashers of the desert southwest incorporate stinging scorpions and centipedes in their diet. To defend themselves, the birds have to effectively thrash their prey to kill the bugs quickly and crush their exoskeletons for improved digestion. Other thrashing birds include thrushes, which cannot commence feasting on the snails they catch until the gastropods' shells are removed. Many species of songbird have to remove the rigid, tough-to-swallow, and sometimes poisonous bristles of the fuzzy caterpillars they find before they can dine. Additional birds that thrash their prey before swallowing it whole include shrikes, kingfishers, and roadrunners.





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  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021