Many birds are omnivorous, but what exactly does that mean? Discover what makes birds omnivorous, and learn what they eat, how their diets change, and which birds are omnivores.
What Does Omnivorous Mean?
(adjective) Omnivorous describes a diet that regularly includes significant amounts of both plants and animals. Animals and birds that eat both plant-based and animal-based foods are called omnivores.
(rhymes with "ah deliver us" and "prom giver fuss")
What Omnivorous Birds Eat
Omnivorous birds eat a wide range of different foods, with both plant-based and animal-based materials being significant parts of their overall diets. Typical foods may include:
- Plant Materials: Seeds, grain, grasses, nectar, fruit, nuts, flowers, leaves, buds, roots, pollen, sap
- Animal Materials: Insects, fish, lizards, crustaceans, mollusks, rodents, snakes, mammals, eggs, carrion
To be considered omnivorous, a bird does not need to eat all possible types of plant or animal foods, nor do the foods need to be eaten at the same times. The overall diet, however, must include significant amounts of both animal materials and plant materials.
Diet type classification is typically only applied to mature, adult birds, since young chicks may have significantly different diets to obtain the necessary proteins, minerals, and nutrients for proper growth. Many mature birds also change their diets seasonally or take advantage of whatever foods may be most abundant or easiest to obtain, but if they eat both plant- and animal-based foods during the year, they are considered omnivorous.
Examples of Omnivorous Birds
By the broadest definition, most birds could be classified as omnivores because they eat insects for a protein source even if much of their diet is plant-based. When insects or other animal materials are only a small or irregular part of a bird's diet, however, the birds may be classified as a different diet type and wouldn't typically be considered omnivores. Birds known to have omnivorous diets that are more equally balanced between plant- and animal-based foods include:
While not all of these types of birds are strong omnivores, most are indiscriminate eaters and do eat both plant-based and animal-based foods.
How Omnivorous Diets Change
Omnivorous bird species often change their diet seasonally for whatever food sources are most readily available. For many birds, this means eating insects in the spring and summer when bug populations are booming. In late summer, fruits may be more readily available as crops ripen, then in fall seeds and grains may be most abundant. In winter, any available food could be eaten, and birds may even eat nuts or grains they have cached. This adaptability allows birds to have a wider range of choices and take advantage of more food sources for better survival, particularly for resident species that do not migrate to different locations as local preferred foods dwindle.
Birds may also change their diets at different life stages based on changing nutritional needs. During the breeding season, for example, female birds often consume more calcium for healthier egg development. More animal-based foods may be present in birds' diets when they are molting and need more protein for for proper feather growth, and higher calorie, fat-rich foods are often preferred before and during migration, when the extra energy provides critical fuel for migratory species.
Many juvenile birds eat greater amounts of animal-based foods for the higher protein those foods provide, which improves growth and development. As the birds mature, they may eat a more varied diet or could even switch to a completely herbivorous menu, in which case they would not be considered truly omnivorous.
Feeding Omnivorous Birds in the Backyard
Birders can take advantage of birds' varied diets by offering a wider range of foods in their yard to attract hungry birds. The best foods to offer to cater to omnivorous birds include:
- Plant-Based Backyard Foods: Nectar or sugar water, fruit pieces, orange halves, jelly, birdseed mixes, nuts, peanut butter, cracked corn, seed-bearing flowers, fruit trees, berry bushes, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Animal-Based Backyard Foods: Fat-based suet, mealworms, crickets, minimizing insecticide and other pesticides to provide abundant insects, spiders, rodents, etc.
By catering to a range of tastes, birders can attract a much wider variety of birds to their feeders. To make the foods even more attractive, it is important to use different bird feeder styles, keep feeders accessible to multiple birds, and practice safe bird feeding habits. Regularly cleaning feeders, installing baffles to deter other wildlife, and generally making the entire yard bird-friendly will help attract many omnivorous birds to the buffet.
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