Herbivore Definiton - Herbivorous Birds

Bird Diet Types

Baby Goose Grazing on Grass

Stefan Berndtsson/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Definition of Herbivorous

(adjective) Herbivorous describes a diet composed primarily of plant material which may include seeds, grasses, grain, buds, nuts, fruit, nectar, leaves, tubers, sap, pollen, and algae. While many birds include a variety of plant materials in their diets, to be considered herbivorous their diet must be mostly plant-based for much of the year.

Pronunciation

her-BIH-vore-us
(rhymes with "deliver us" and "purr shiver us")

What Herbivorous Birds Eat

In the broadest sense, herbivorous birds eat plants, but there's much more to it than that. For a balanced, nutritious diet, most plant-eating birds eat a wide range of different plant parts, including tree buds, new leaves and grass shoots, bits of bark, flowers, lichens, moss, nuts, fruit, seeds, sap, and more. Many birds that rely on plants for much of their diet will shift their eating patterns to consume plants or plant parts that are most widely available at different times of the year. For example, herbivorous birds may eat more buds and blossoms in spring, but shift to nectar or leaves in summer, fruit and nuts in the fall, and seeds throughout the winter.

There are several more specific herbivorous diets that describe dietary preferences that focus on just one part of a plant, including:

  • Frugivorous: Fruit-Eating (apples, cherries, berries, bananas, citrus, etc.)
  • Granivorous: Seed or grain-eating (wildflower seeds, birdseed, wheat, rice, etc.)
  • Muscivorous: Sap-eating (sipping sap from trees)
  • Nectivorous: Nectar-eating (sipping nectar from flowers)
  • Palynivorous: Pollen-eating (from wildflowers or flowerbeds)

Many herbivorous birds also eat a substantial amount of grit, including rocks, sand, bits of gravel, or other coarse material. While these rough bits are not nutritious, they are stored in the bird's gizzard to help break down the tough fibers of plants for easier digestion.

While a herbivorous diet should be mainly plants, many plant-eating birds do occasionally eat other things. In particular, many herbivorous birds add a greater proportion of insects or other protein to their diet during the nesting season in order for their chicks to receive appropriate nutrition for healthy growth. As they mature, however, the young birds transition to a plant-based diet, and the adults return to their preferred plant foods.

Herbivorous Bird Species

Few birds are strict, consistent herbivores, but those that have largely herbivorous diets include the nene, snow goose, and other large waterfowl. The greater sage-grouse and other types of sage-grouse and related species are herbivores, as well as many parrots. The hoatzin is a tropical herbivore, and many smaller goldfinches are also largely plant-eating.

It is important to note that not every bird species that appears to be grazing or nibbling on plants may actually be herbivorous. Many birds, such as ibises, shorebirds, and wading birds will peck at the ground in search of worms and insects. Similarly, arboreal birds may seem to be nibbling at leaves or bark when they are actually foraging for insects.

Backyard Bird Feeding for Herbivores

It is easy to feed plant-loving birds in the yard, both with natural food sources as well as supplemental feeders. Popular options include:

  • Use nectar feeders with a simple, classic nectar recipe to feed hummingbirds and orioles when flowers aren't blooming. Take steps to keep the feeders clean and discourage insects so birds can feed comfortably.
  • Leave leaf litter intact during the fall and winter so birds can forage for seeds, nuts, and bits of plants leftover from earlier seasons. This will also help protect delicate plant roots for better growth the following spring.
  • Minimize chemical use in the yard, particularly herbicides that would eliminate the very plants birds will rely on as natural food sources. Even so-called weeds such as dandelions can feed many different types of birds.

Also Known As

Plant-eating, plant-eater (noun)