Many of us have pet birds that we keep in our homes or feeders out in our gardens to cater to our winged friends who do not live in captivity. Millions of birds live out in the wild, going about their daily lives. The biggest part of their day is spent searching for food. So, what kinds of foods do birds eat in the wild?
In the wild, birds will eat one or more of the following foods:
- Insects, small invertebrates like midges and grubs
- Plant matter like seeds and nectar
- Small fruit, berries, and nuts
- Crustaceans and fish
Larger birds like eagles and hawks might consume small animals like snakes and rodents.
Birds will eat different foods out in the wild, and now that we know overall what types of foods they might eat, we can take an expanded look at what these food groups include.
After that, we can take this more in-depth look to see which groups of wild birds might eat which food type.
What Types Of Food Do Birds Eat In The Wild?
You can separate the different food sources of wild birds into generalized groupings:
- Insects and small vertebrates: This group includes flying insects such as mosquitoes, gnats, beetles, flying ants, aphids, other insects, and small invertebrates, such as worms, spiders, grubs, snails, caterpillars, aquatic invertebrates, and larvae.
- Fruit and its subsidiaries: Fruits such as apples, berries, and cherries, also included in this group are the fruit trees, seeds, and nuts. The third group is partnered with the second because it contains seeds from plants, shrubs, and trees that don’t produce fruit. This group includes seeds from the safflower, sunflower, nyjer, millet, thistle, and corn.
- Plant nectar
- Some of the larger birds will feed on smaller birds, rodents, and snakes.
Some wild birds will only eat from one of these groups, while others will eat from two or more groups.
A few birds will only eat plant foods while others are omnivorous, which means they will eat both plants and animals.
Most birds will fall into the omnivorous category, feeding on seeds, fruits or nuts, insects, and small invertebrates.
Their diets often shift depending on what is readily available to them at the time. Diets will also depend on what kind of bird they are and what their natural environment offers.
What Do Tree-Clinging Birds Eat In The Wild?
Tree-clinging birds include creepers, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.
Creeper birds, named because they have a habit of creeping up the trunks of trees, will have a diet consisting of soft insects and spiders.
They used their curved bills to prod around the trunks of trees to find their food.
Nuthatches prefer to eat insects and seeds. In contrast, woodpeckers will generally eat grubs and bugs that they have found in trees. They are also known to fly low and pluck bugs from the air.
Some species will include fruit in their diet, while others, such as the Red-headed woodpecker, like to store acorns and nuts to snack on later. (Here’s a list of birds that make hanging nest)
What Do Perching Birds Eat In The Wild?
The perching bird group is rather large and includes birds of different sizes, from ravens to hummingbirds.
Many birds belonging to the songbird category belong to this collection. Due to this wide range of species, the diet is highly diverse.
Many smaller birds, such as the hummingbird, feed on flower nectar almost exclusively; they will also eat bugs if they present themselves.
Birds such as finches will eat seeds, with the American Finch often being spotted atop an Echinacea or sunflower tree snacking on their seeds. Another favorite is the thistle seed. (Here’s our complete guide on what do finches eat?)
Jays, crows, and magpies are omnivorous birds. Not being picky eaters, they will consume insects, meat, fruits, vegetables, and seeds.
What Do Swallows And Pigeons Eat In The Wild?
As swallows spend the majority of their time flying, they feast primarily on insects. Some varieties will also eat berries; an example of this is the tree swallow.
The swift, which is not technically a swallow, has similar hunting and eating habits, only eating flying insects.
Urban area locals, doves and pigeons, prefer to subsist mainly on what people offer them. But they will also include seeds, fruits, and nuts in their diets.
What Do Birds Of Prey Eat In The Wild?
Hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons all belong to the group of birds. Flying high in the air to search for their prey, hawks mainly hunt small animals such as lizards, insects, snakes, and smaller birds.
Most owls are nocturnal, hunting at night and sleeping during the day. Some owls are an exception to this, an example being the snowy owl.
Most owls hunt for rodents, waterfowl, crayfish, rabbits, frogs, and lizards. But not all owls eat the same foods; the elf owl, a small owl species, almost exclusively eats insects. (Want to know about rodents – here’s a website for you [petsloveguide].
The bald eagle is a fisherman by trade, flying low to the water’s surface to grab fish with their talons.
On the other hand, falcons prefer to eat other birds; the peregrine falcon, for example, likes to hunt urban pigeons.
What Do Water Birds Eat In The Wild?
This bird category includes those belonging to the webbed-footed family, including geese, ducks, and swans.
The water birds’ diet is varied and has fish, vegetation, insects, crustaceans, and some consume seeds.
Gulls also belong to the web-foot family, although they spend a lot of their time airborne.
These opportunistic birds will eat just about anything, from insects to fish, eggs, garbage, crustaceans, and other young birds.
What Can You Offer Wild Birds In Your Garden?
If you would like to offer wild birds a snack to get them to visit your garden more frequently, there are a few things you can put out which might attract their attention:
- Create a dedicated feeding station for your wild birds, offering them – sunflower seeds, suet, millet, peanuts, mealworms, nectar, safflower seeds, peanut butter, mixed birdseed, apple halves
- Leave some seeds on your plants to attract the birds to feast on them
- Don’t use an insecticide in your garden; leave the insects for the birds
- Plant fruit trees
- Put up a birdbath
Ther are two things to remember while setting up and looking after your outside wild bird feeders.
The first is that you should keep your feeding station tidy to prevent a rodent infestation.
The second is to make sure you set up your station at least 30 feet from any windows or within 3 feet of a window to prevent birds from flying into the glass.
What birds will eat in the wild will depend on a variety of factors. Overall, birds tend to eat one or more of the following food sources: insects and small invertebrates, those on land and in the water, fruit, fruit tree seeds and nuts, nectar, other seeds, small rodents, snakes, and other birds. In the more urban areas, birds might even feed on garbage.
Most birds are omnivorous and will eat both plant and animal matter.
Some birds are very particular, eating only a small variety of foods, such as hummingbirds who feed almost exclusively on nectar.
But most will eat more than one food source to vary their diet, and even the hummingbird will eat insects if they present themselves.