"Carnivorous" describes a diet that consists primarily, though not always exclusively, of meat. Food or prey typically includes mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, fish or reptiles, and it is obtained either through hunting or scavenging.
Birds of prey such as hawks, falcons, eagles, osprey, vultures, and owls are familiar carnivorous birds, but many other types of birds also consume a fair amount of meat and could be classified as carnivores. While the term carnivorous refers to any general meat diet, more specific variations where a predator consumes only a specific type of meat have more specialized terms, including:
- Piscivorous: Fish-eating - Penguins, herons, egrets, ospreys
- Insectivorous: Insect-eating - Flycatchers, warblers, swallows, rollers
- Avivorous: Bird-eating - Accipiters, peregrine falcons
- Molluscivorous: Mollusk-eating - Mergansers, sandpipers
Birds rarely eat just one type of meat, and many will choose whatever prey is convenient or easiest to catch. When a bird's diet has a majority of one type of food, however, it is appropriate to refer to the bird by the specific type of food it prefers.
Carrion is also a popular food source for carnivorous birds, particularly vultures, and could be a discarded hunting carcass or entrails, road kill or any animal that may have died from an illness, accident or injury.
How Birds Hunt Meat
Carnivorous birds may hunt prey on the ground or catch prey in midair. Different predatory birds have different hunting techniques, such as:
- Soaring slowly and using their keen eyesight to seek out prey, staying far enough away from potential victims until ready to strike with a steep dive.
- Perching quietly and staying still, waiting for suitable prey to approach before dropping onto the prey from a height or pouncing to catch a morsel.
- Using scent or sound to locate prey that may be concealed or difficult to see, then honing in on the meal gradually before a quick strike.
- Sitting on one perch before quickly flying out to catch a bite and immediately returning to the same perch either to eat or to wait for the next bite.
- Watching for feeding activity by other carnivorous birds or any feeding predator, then stealing the prey by chasing away or overpowering the competition to take advantage of the ready meal.
Most birds will use different hunting and feeding techniques as different circumstances warrant. By being adaptable and switching to different prey when necessary, carnivores can make the most of any available food.
Carnivorous Birds in the Backyard
Many backyard birders dislike visiting carnivores, but attracting backyard hawks is a great test of bird-friendly landscaping and can help manage a wide range of other backyard wildlife, including mice, lizards, snakes, and snails. Minimizing insecticide use in the yard will also maximize prey for insectivorous birds, and thrushes, warblers, and other insect-loving backyard birds can be great natural pest control. For birders who prefer not to provide a feathered feast for airborne carnivores, it is also easy to take steps to protect backyard birds from hawks and other birds of prey.
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