What Kinds of Food Do Birds Eat?

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The diet of birds varies widely, and generally includes seeds, nuts, fruits and small insects, beetles and worms. Different species of birds consume various substances, and avian diets are different for domestic and wild creatures. The seasons also play a role in determining what foods birds eat: when berries and nuts ripen in the spring and summer, for instance, birds consume large quantities of those foods.

All birds need basic necessities to survive, including water, shelter and food. Most share the same water supplies and live in similar structures, but have vastly different dietary requirements. In the wild, common natural food supplies for many species include insects, fruits, berries and nectar from flowering plants. Some species even suck sap out of tree buds, and others pick small termites, worms and other insects from blades of grass and tree cavities. Large birds, like hawks, vultures and owls, may consumer larger sources of meat, such as fish and small rodents. Many birds eat food caught live and fresh, but some, namely vultures, feed on carcasses too.

As with humans, birds have different dietary needs and preferences depending on the season. In the winter, many birds (especially those migrating long distances) need food sources that are high in protein, fats and carbohydrates. Nuts are ideal during this time, and legumes consumed by people, such as peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios, make excellent choices for bird fuel too. These nuts pack protein and fiber, and are safe for birds to consume.

For people looking to attract birds to feeders or give them a good place to stop and refuel, stocking feeders with seeds and grains does the job. As with humans, some birds prefer different types of seeds and grain, and people can attract different species by putting out certain items. Of the large selection in the seeds and grains category, some are more readily available, popular with a greater variety of birds and less expensive than others. Sunflower seeds, for instance, are a favorite among songbirds. They contain rich supplies of fats and oils, which help songbirds through frigid winter nights. Safflower seeds are consumed primarily by smaller birds, such as cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches. These birds have beaks that are equipped for breaking open the tough outer shells of these nuts, which can be placed in feeders or spread over the ground. Millet seeds are preferred by birds that can handle nuts with medium to hard shells, such as sparrows, cardinals and juncos.

Lastly, corn is a popular food item with birds; like people, avian species consume kernels of corn in many colors and sizes. They may eat kernels whole, or off of corn cobs and in the form of corn meal mush. Corn is ideal for feeding birds in the winter, as it has high levels of carbohydrates and other essential nutrients.