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It’s Dinner Time!

2015 March 2
by Braulio Castillo

Food! Eating! Taste! Cuisine! All of these aspects of your daily feeding habits obviously vary from person to person. While some people like spicy food, others like the sweet stuff. The texture of meat might be pleasing to some, while a nice juicy fruit is a whole lot more appetizing to others. If such variations in taste exist between the cuisines of a single species (us humans) then one can only begin to imagine the variety in alimentary habits that exists between different species.


A Great Blue Heron awaiting by the marsh, Photo courtesy of Barry Wallace, ON, CANADA

Flight style, beak shape, hunting technique, and food storage all vary from bird species to bird species. Birds such as the albatross that need to cover large areas while using as little energy as possible, developed a wing shape that allows them to glide on minimal air currents. To open hard seeds some birds developed thick strong beaks, while other birds developed thinner, finer beaks in order to open mostly smaller, softer seeds.  Hunting techniques vary as demonstrated by egrets and herons that slowly and silently stalk their prey in marshes until they quickly jab at their victims. Other birds’ pursuit of different prey can lead to capture on a tree, the ground, or even mid-flight!


An American Robin feeding its young, Photo courtesy of Mike Conley, MO

A fascinating example of interesting eating habits and customs is one of our focal species, the American Robin. This infinitesimally interesting bird eats different foods depending on the time of the day; earthworms being its morning food, and fruit being its evening nourishment. The fruit is actually a huge staple of its diet in the fall and winter, even becoming intoxicated if it happens to exclusively eat honeysuckle berries. The American Robin will also use its crop (its expandable esophagus), in order to store fruit on a cold winter night.  Interestingly, other birds have developed additional techniques such as carrying small prey in pouches under the tongue or in the throat. The fascinating American Robin becomes even “curiouser and curiouser” as one individual Robin has even been observed to defend a fruiting crabapple tree against fifteen Cedar Waxwings (which happens to be another of our focal species)!

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An American Robin hanging out on a berry tree, Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brandenburg, IL

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