Birds are mostly omnivores, but with thousands of different species on the planet there are always exceptions to the rule – or are there? New research led by the American Museum of Natural History suggests that there are about 18,000 bird species in the world. They seem to be everywhere no matter if you are in the country, urban or suburban areas. The exploration of the eating habits of these beautiful, cute or even fierce creatures, reveals an exciting facet of their lives. Read on before flying the coop to discover if birds are vegetarians.
Table of Contents
What is a Bird’s Vegetarian Diet?
For birds, a vegetarian diet consists of a primary source of vegetables, such as fruits, herbs, roots, nectar, grains, seeds, and nuts. Many species show a clear preference for this type of food in their foraging patterns. Among different elements of vegetarian diets, some birds devotedly select just one or two varieties of plant source. A good example of this is the greater grouse of north America, who’s diet consists of about 60% sage brush.
However, most birds are omnivores (eating items of plant and animal origin), always complementing their diets with some meaty snacks like insects and worms. A good example is the Robin, who’ll eat different types of food depending not only on the time of year, but even the time of day. Robins will eat earthworms in the mornings and more fruit later in the day.
Lets delve into the lives of different species of birds, from four corners of the globe and find out if birds are vegetarians or not.
Parrots are one of the most extended species of birds with 387 species in the Psittaciformes family. Including cockatoos and the New Zealand variety, their popularity, as pets, is well known with millions living in houses around the world. To many owners, parrots are valuable companions, when they’re well looked after.
Did you know some parrots can live as long as humans do? Yes, this is possible: they can get to 70 years old. But to achieve the luxury of advanced years they need a balanced diet. These birds are mostly vegetarian. Their favorite food consists of seeds like buckwheat, buds, canary seeds, safflower, and millets, among others. This food provides them with high levels of protein to help them develop muscles and remain strong.
The upper and lower jaws of parrots are specifically designed to cut through seeds; the diet of parrots is not limited to seeds, as they can consume most fruits and veggies. These bright, feathered friends love bananas, melon, carrots, peas, beans among others. However, this does not provide all the proteins they need. This is why many parrot owners add additional dosages of protein in the form of pieces of meat. Yes, they can eat meat, as long as it’s in moderation. The key is to control the levels of fat. Seeds help keep the levels of fat in meat at bay.
Interestingly, Lories and lorikeets are adapted with brush tipped tongues to eat largely nectar but a study revealed rainbow lorikeets, like other parrots often eat meat and pet lorikeets like to eat meat in captivity.
Griffith University, Australia, Professor of Ecology Darryl Jones who conducted the study said:
“Lorikeets and a whole bunch of other parrots were frequently known to feed on meat,”
everything that I have read suggest very strongly that if an individual lorikeet consumed mince regularly such that this was a main part of its diet, the chance of being subject to Metabolic Bone Disease would be high.Professor Jones writing to FantasticWildlife
Ostriches are the tallest birds and the closest living descendant of the Tyrannosaurus rex. They can even kill a lion with just a kick and run fast enough to reach up to 70km/h. This makes it the fastest animal on two legs. It is hard to believe that with their dimensions, their diet is mostly based on roots, leaves and seeds. But it is! Ostriches on the savanna will often graze next to mammals. But in the wild habitat, they sometimes eat little lizards, small tortoises and insects making them true omnivores.
These majestic birds display a beautiful set of feathers that can take your breath away! Such displays are usually for courtship rituals and those feathers need a lot of protein to maintain their health. Peafowl should eat food with a protein level of at least 20% according to experts. If you keep to peafowl, experts advise a diet of ‘Game Breeder’ pellets. A glimpse at the ingredients reinforces the omnivore diet of these illustrious birds: Among other ingredients: ‘Corn, Soybean Meal, Wheat Middling, Calcium Carbonate, Animal Protein Products”
In the wild their diet is mixed between grass like sorghum, fruits, grains, and a fair dosage of reptiles, snakes, and insects. Their menu is a great example of a balanced omnivorous diet.
This a bird mostly found in mountainous forests of China and stands out due to its colorful red body and golden crest. Despite having wings, the Golden Pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus), prefers to spend the majority of its time on the ground and is a solitary bird. I digress, this beautiful pheasant eats a trifecta of classes of veggie foods helping it to be a grand survivor: Golden pheasants are frugivores, granivores and folivores meaning they eat fruit, grains and foliage. They will also eat insects and spiders. A strong vegetarian diet and insect menu mean these birds are omnivores.
Vultures (not for the Faint Hearted) Going Against The Grain
What are vultures doing in this list? We all know they are birds of prey and can guess that their diet is mostly based on carrion. This is true but did you know vultures can be cannibals? If a hungry vulture finds the dead body of another vulture it will not hesitate in eating it as it’s just seen as more carrion to this craggy faced scavenger. The acid on their stomach is so powerful that can dissolve and break down bones and other elements in just hours. So in short most vultures are the exception to the rule that birds are vegetarians or omnivores.
Fantastic Wildlife Fact
A more family friendly vulture is known as the Palm Nut vulture that eats fruit found on the palm tree, husks, grains, and similar veggie food. Although they can eat crabs, frogs and fish, palm fruits can reach between 60% to 90% of their daily diet. The white beauty is an omnivore version of a vulture. Living in Sub-Sahara Africa, it will often be found in coastal areas where the palm nut trees grow.
Vultures are not the only birds who can lean to cannibalism: crows are capable of cannibalism if hungry. Crows are very intelligent birds to the point of being lauded with having the intelligence equal to primates. You can find them using tools to spear hard to reach prey. Field experiments by biologists at the University of St Andrews found that tool bending is part of New Caledonian crows’ natural behaviour. Amazingly, crows will bend soft twigs to use them as hooks to retrieve food in tree holes.
Crows distinguish shapes and can carry out tasks after learning from observations. Although many confuse them with a sort of a devouring plague on gardens and farms, the truth is they have learned to use their intelligence to adapt to almost any environment.
You might consider their diet as opportunistic but it is not just their intelligence that allows them to adapt to any environment, their digestive system does not set too many limitations. Hence, they can eat fruits, grains, herbs, worms, reptiles, insects, mollusks and whatever they find in the garbage of your garage. Also, they are very social and have been proven to remember human faces.
Many people refer to these birds of the trogon family, as one of the most beautiful and exuberant birds in the wild. It is native to Central America, Guatemala and is seen as an important cog in keeping the forests healthy, but unfortunately, the Quetxal is in danger. Their diet is mostly fruits complemented with lizards and insects and are a beautiful example of omnivores that like seeds and fruit in the avocado family.
The special taste of Canadian Geese leads them to invade yards to eat some garden plants. Their diet also includes grains and graze on grass. And, they complement it with fish, making them true omnivores.
Ducks are some of the most versatile birds of all. In the wild they eat large quantities of aquatic vegetation such as pond weed but they also rely on snails and small invertebrates, lizards, frogs, larvae, pupae, crabs, worms and fish. Pet ducks can be fed grains, corn, oats, rice, small fish, milo seed, nuts, green vegetables, fish eggs, small berries among specialist food from pet suppliers. So you see ducks are classic omnivores.
These are Australian birds that eat both insects and plants. But the plant menu takes priority over anything else. In addition, they also consume the sap of plants and many species among them derive their foods from a considerable proportion of fruits. Their brush-tipped tongues are ideal to extract nectar from flowers. You can find honeyeaters in different sizes and sometimes the battle for plants is fierce. They also help in fertilizing Australian plants especially Ericaceae (Wikipedia link), Myrtaceae (Wikipedia link) and Proteaceae.
Pigeons drink water by suction so if you keep a pigeon as a pet the water bowl should be at least 1 in. (2.5 cm) deep. Pigeons should be given grain, though in parks pigeons will eat bread.
Split peas, rice, barley, buckwheat (kasha), canary seeds are other good foods to provide. Like many other birds, in the wild they will sometimes eat earth worms, snails and insects, making them omnivores.
Nene Bird or Hawaiian Goose
This is a goose that is the official bird of Hawaii since 1957. The particular penchant of the Hawaiian goose is a herbivorous diet as a grazer or browser. Unlike many other species, it is really rare to see it eating other insects or bugs. It would far prefer a handful of berries. In general, you can consider this bird like a a vegetarian who may slip up every Christmas.
This is the national bird of the South American country Venezuela. Also, it is a symbol of Taino Indians in the Caribbean. It is very small and there are more than 300 species alive. Interestingly, this hummingbird receives plenty of nicknames such as ‘zoom zoom’ and ‘bird fly’. They are common even in the towns and streets on Isla De Margarita, Venezuela.
Their diet consists mainly of the nectar of a flowers. Some Latin America, Indian cultures consider the hummingbird sacred because it is a pollinator that helps the maintenance of jungles, flowers and forests. In typical bird style hummingbirds will also eat insects such as ants, aphids and gnats, making them true omnivores
Greater Sage Grouse
The natural habitat of this bird is in North America. Despite being herbivorous, it is not able to eat seeds because their digestive system can’t process them. More than 60% of adult’s diet consists of sagebrush. However, when they are little the main diet is with worms,and insects. Here we have an example of a bird that evolves as it grows. Although it starts with insects to cover the nutritional requirements, it develops into eating herbs and plants.
Final (Egg Head) Words
Without a doubt, we can say that most birds are not vegetarians. They are omnivores. Birds’ natural instinct of survival is satisfied sometimes by the protein, insects and small animals provide. With most areas of nature there are examples that go against the grain (excuse the pun). The carnivorous vulture, that is a full blooded meat eater, of which there are twenty three types is one such gory type.
- American Museum of Natural History
- ABC news