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All about food

Hi everyone, it’s Claire from the Bird Team! Today I wanted to teach you about our birds’ diets. We’ve all heard the terms carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore, right? But did you know that there are several subcategories? While an herbivore or carnivore eats mostly plants or meat, respectively, there are different types of these that categorize a diet more specifically. While it’s simpler to define an animal as just a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore, the reality of an animal’s diet tends to be much more varied than we expect. 

Let’s start off with the basics and talk about some of our well-known carnivorous birds. Our ground hornbills, owls, and vultures are all carnivores. This means that they tend to only eat meat. We feed our carnivorous birds rats, mice, and even quail. But did you know that our green woodhoopoes are also carnivorous? They may not look quite like the predators we think of as carnivores, but these birds still primarily eat other animals. More specifically, these birds are known to be insectivorous, meaning they eat insects, like crickets and mealworms.

Most birds here at the Zoo are classified as omnivores, meaning they’ll eat meat and plant products. Some specific examples include azure-winged magpies, superb starlings, and blue cranes. Most of our omnivorous birds get what we call avian salad: a mix of fruits, veggies, and something we call “reliable protein.” In addition to the avian salad, our birds get a lot of bugs to eat, including mealworms and crickets. Some of them even get a small mouse, or a mix of meat added to the salad. For those that don’t tend to eat as many fruits/veggies, they get special grain for their species. Our white-faced whistling ducks get waterfowl grain; our wattled cranes get crane grain; and our Indian peafowl get gamebird grain, to name a few. 

For herbivorous birds, we can name a few of those subcategories I mentioned earlier. These terms are not all-encompassing of a bird’s diet, but helps describe the diet item the bird gets most of its nutrients from. Frugivores, for example, are a type of herbivore that mostly eat fruit. Here at the Zoo, our wonga pigeons are a good example of frugivores. Their diet consists of apple, pear, melon, and papaya, with a little seed sprinkled on top. Although we don’t have any in a habitat here at the Zoo, here in Georgia a type of nectarivore can be found: hummingbirds! Hummingbirds are adapted to get all their nutrients from the nectar of plants. Some species may also be slightly insectivorous and eat bugs, but most of their diet is just nectar.

As you can see, there’s a lot of variation to the diets we feed our animals. We do a lot of research to understand the natural histories of our birds, so that we know exactly what kind of varied diet they have in the wild. Knowing whether a bird is classified as a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore (plus what sub-categories may apply) helps us narrow down exactly what they eat, and make sure they have all the nutrition sources they need!

Claire S.
Keeper I, Birds

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