Wildthings Public Wildlife Education

Backyard Birds

      This is the first installment of a two part series on birds in your backyard.  Were going to focus mainly on the Passerines, or sometimes called “perching birds”.  This month we will focus on what they eat and how do they get their food.  Next month will be where do they nest and the difference in baby birds.

     Passerines make up for over half of all the bird species.  The different Passerines are built a lot a like, for instance they all have 12 tail feathers, but don’t let that fool you each species is very much their “own bird”. One big difference is what they eat and how do they go about it.  A bird’s beak is to help them obtain food, whether it is cracking, crunching, spearing, shredding, picking or any of the other talented things they can do with their beaks.  It is their ultimate tool.   House Finch Photo

American Goldfinch







      The top is a male Cassin Finch or as most of us know him, a House Finch.  The picture to the right is of a Goldfinch.    Finches have conical beaks to help them crack seeds.      


       Their markings are very different, but their beaks are the same rugged seed cracking beak.  Sunflower and Nyjer are their favorite seeds.  They will also eat other types of seeds, grains, berries and other fruit like..........your crab apple tree in the front yard. 

    Now swallows and anything in the Nightjar family have a very different approach. They prefer the easy way, they swoop   around and whatever they scoop up is dinner.  And their gaping mouth can scoop up quite a few bugs in a short period.

 This is a Barn Swallow.




Poorwill2.jpg Poorwill image by superchiqa                                              Common Poorwill      The top left picture is of a Common Poorwill, the picture on the top right is the open mouth of the Common Poorwill.  That little bitty beak opens up to be a huge bug net!  Since their beaks don't have to do any cracking or hammering they are softer than most bird beaks. 

     We usually see the Robin at work in our yard, picking bugs out of the grass.  His beak is very adept at grabbing catepillars, beetle grubs, and worms that are trying to squirm into the ground and escape him.  They are equally good at grabbing berries.

     The Pileated Woodpeckers beak are built like chisels to hammer and go under bark and into the wood after ants, beetle larvae, and other tree dwelling insects.


The Pileated Woodpecker is on left, Northern Flicker is on the right; both are males. 

    Northern Flickers beaks are slightly different. Flickers still go after insects, ants being their favorite food, but their beaks are longer than other Woodpeckers. They need to go into the ground after bugs instead of chiseling into a wood tree. They still have the Woodpeckers sticky tongue so when the beak gets them in the tongue grabs them, the ants cannot escape!                                                          


    Doves and Pigeons beaks are perfect for picking small seeds and small pieces of gravel off the ground.




 (Black-Chinned female)

The Hummingbird has a soft spot in most of our heats.  It has that cool long skinny beak to suck up the yummy sweet nectar way inside the flowers.  Their tongue is grooved like a trough so they can put it in the flower and use it as a straw.  Though flower nectar is yummy it is pretty low in vitamins. They get more vitamins and protein from the tiny bugs that are also in the Hummers diet.  Tiny spiders and other insects help fill in the protein that the little bird needs.  After all, with their metabolism they are always just hours from starving to death.  They have to eat more than their weight everyday just to stay going.    



                   Bluejay                                         Steller Jay                                     Scrubjay   

     I don't think even scientists know all the things a jay can do with its beak.  They can crack peanuts, grab an entire berry or grape in their mouth.  I have watched them use their beak at my feeder as a scoop to empty all the birdseed on the ground just to pick out their favorites the sunflower seeds and cracked corn.  Jay's are intelligent enough to problem solve.  This also means they are always thinking of new ways to do things and use their beak. 

 Pine Warbler Photo   Bewick

                     Pine Warbler                                                             Bewick's Wren  

      There are many species of both the Warbler and the Wren.  One thing they all have in common is that they are bug eaters.  Their beaks are suited for ladybugs, caterpillars, spiders and other small bugs.  Keep in mind in the pictures the beak looks big, but when you don't have a lot of bird that means the beaks are pretty small too.  Since I don't have a tiny beak to feed the babies that come into the rehab center, when I feed them it gets rather messy.  It always ends up with a thorough face wash for the bird!  And like typical kid......they hate it!