Field guide training: Birds – Part 2

Microorganisms, microbes, invertebrates, vertebrates, carcass as well as plants – birds actually eat everything. The following blogs reveals more details about the feeding behaviour of birds.


To put it short: There is no type of food that has not been ‘discovered’ by birds. Microorganisms such as algae and microbes, invertebrates, vertebrates and carrion as well as fruit, seeds and nectar – almost every conceivable source of food can be considered. Depending on what kind of prey they are specialized in, the bird groups differ in their external characteristics:

Fish eater:

This group uses their beaks to pack or spear their prey. Therefore, the beaks are usually long and pointed. Representatives of this group are, for example, cormorants, herons or kingfishers.


These include, for example, falcons, eagles or owls. With their sharp, curved beaks and strong claws, they are perfectly adapted to the ripping of prey.



This group usually possesses short pointed beaks, which they can use to quickly grab insects and swallow them. In addition, the beaks are strong enough to transport their prey over long distances to a certain place, for example, their own nest.

Seed eater:

A characteristic feature of this group are the conical, hard beaks which work like a crusher. An example of a seed eater is the group of finches.


One of the most famous representatives of this group is the hummingbird which can only be found on the American continent. In Africa, the equivalent is the family of the sunbirds (Nectariniidae)). They have a long, needle-like beak and a long tongue, in order to reach that kind of nectar that sometimes is almost hidden in the calyx of flowers.

In addition to these main categories, there are some specialised diets: The "filterers", which include ducks or flamingos for example, filter their food (algae, plankton) out of the water with their beaks. The "seekers" have highly sensitive receptors on their beaks with which they perceive prey animals that hide, for example, in mud or leaves. The "wood chippers" have special beaks, which are able to loosen tree bark by violent impacts against the wood and to catch the insects lying under it. The bird remains unharmed due to a mechanism for damping vibrations. An example for such a kind of nutrition is the woodpecker.

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