Get to know some of the different ways birds feed and why they do what they do.

Grab-and-Go Seed Eaters

In this section you will meet some favorite feeder birds and learn why they grab food and fly away from the feeder before they eat it. This piece features the chickadee – by all accounts one of the world’s most charming birds…

Did You Know? Some Birds Need Their Feet to Eat

The grab-and-go foraging technique is favored by birds like chickadees, jays, nuthatches, who need their feet to process seeds, and find it more convenient to do this at an offsite location. One of the other reasons birds will choose “take out” is if they tend to be scared away frequently by more-dominant feeder birds. For small birds like chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches, seeking some privacy can give them time to safely eat their dinner.

Store-for-Later Seed Eaters

Some birds at your feeder seem like they couldn’t possibly eat all of the seeds they take away from the feeder. You’re right! Many birds are planning for the future by hiding away food for later.

Did You Know? Some Birds Save Seed For Later

You may have noticed that some birds stuff many seeds into their mouth at once while at your feeders, and then fly off with them. They will store this tasty loot safely away to eat later, when food becomes scarce. This is an important foraging strategy for jays, woodpeckers, crows, chickadees, and nuthatches. In the wild jays and woodpeckers expend lots of energy in the fall gathering nuts and storing them.

Nectar Lovers

Hummingbirds aren’t the only creatures that love nectar. Did you know there are other bird species and some insects that benefit from your nectar feeder?

Did You Know? Sweet Nectar is Good Fuel

Hummingbirds are specialists in extracting nectar from flowers. They can hover precisely enough to insert their long beaks into flower openings (or feeder ports!) that are in some cases barely wider than the beaks themselves. They gather up nectar using a specialized tongue that channels the liquid upward. The sugar they collect fuels their metabolically-demanding wingbeats. To keep hovering at a rate of around 50 beats per second, hummingbirds depend on a near-constant supply of nectar. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the hummingbirds found in the U.S. are at least somewhat migratory, traveling in the winter to lower latitudes where plants are still flowering. Keep in mind that hummingbirds are not entirely dependent on nectar, and round out their diet with insects year-round. Sap-seeking woodpeckers also enjoy nectar feeders, as do orioles.

Did You Like This Preview?

We know you love your feeder birds and look forward to attracting those surprise visitors. We also know that some backyard species are hard to tell apart at first glance. But learning who’s who is a real confidence boost and marks the first step toward uncovering the fascinating dramas that unfold at your feeders.

Join us for the online course Feeder Birds: Identification and Behavior from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Grab-and-Go Video credits
Mixed Species: Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project
Black-capped Chickadee:
Timothy G. Laman/Macaulay Library 455080
Eric S. Liner/Macaulay Library 447525
Eric S. Liner/Macaulay Library 469704
David O. Brown/Macaulay Library 432857
Eric S. Liner/Macaulay Library 447438

Store-for-Later Video credits
Blue Jay: Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project
Blue Jay Caching Food: Kevin J. McGowan

Nectar Lovers Video credits
Costa’s Hummingbird: Benjamin M. Clock/Macaulay Library 482271
Black-chinned Hummingbird: Larry R. Arbanas/Macaulay Library 466359
Mixed Species: Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project
Hawk Moth: Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project
Swallowtail Butterfly: Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project
Acorn Woodpecker: Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project