What Is the Most Common Food for Wild Birds?

What Is the Most Common Food for Wild Birds?
Over the course of their evolutionary history, birds have filled a dizzying spectrum of ecological niches. Many adaptations naturally relate to the relentless quest for food. A casual introduction to some of the most common types of wild bird diets follows for those who enjoy watching birds---whether they're frequenting backyard feeders, urban parks or wilderness haunts.


Hooked bills and strong talons are often indicators of an actively predatory bird. Raptors immediately come to mind---hawks, eagles, owls, falcons, vultures. These birds (not all closely related) consume a staggering variety of prey, from insects to fish to other birds to monkeys and young ungulates. Even some songbirds set their sights on bigger quarry than bugs: Shrikes, for example, are passerines that will skewer rodents and lizards on thorns and barbed wire for relaxed consumption.



The versatility of wings gives birds enviable prowess in capturing fish, whether it's penguins "flying" after schools underwater or kingfishers dive-bombing quiet forest streams. Some wading birds, such as herons and egrets, are adept at stalking and spearing fish and can even be seen prowling backyard and garden ponds.


Many smaller birds subsist at least partly on insects. Some specialists include the nighthawks, commonly seen looping in twilight skies over open meadows and fields during North American summer. Woodpeckers have evolved their idiosyncratic---and noisy---foraging style to skewer grubs, ants and the like within tree bark.

Seed-splitters and Nutcrackers

Many birds, especially passerines, consume seeds and nuts on a seasonal basis. The diversity of bill shape, the heft and length reflect different approaches. Northern cardinals, for example, have short and heavy beaks, optimal for breaking big, hard-shelled seeds, while the lighter bill of the American tree sparrow is better suited for smaller fare (References 1). Clark's nutcrackers, inhabiting the mountains of the American West, are famous for caching pine nuts across a broad swath of country and then---remarkably---re-locating their stockpiles.

And More...

The dietary variation goes on and on: Flamingos strain invertebrates and algae from shallow waters; hummingbirds target succulent nectar; grouse down huckleberries, and ducks nibble aquatic plants.


Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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