Eat like a bird?

One scarlet tanager was recorded eating 600 tent caterpillars in just 15 minutes. (Steve Maslowski / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

When people say that someone eats like a bird, they usually mean that the person eats very little. But, in some ways, the assumptions behind the saying aren’t accurate. The truth is, birds eat a lot when comparing the amount that they consume with their size. Also, one doesn’t see many humans imitating the dining habits described below. Can you match these birds that spend some time in the Chesapeake watershed with their food-related activities? Answers are below.

American coot

American crow

American redstart

American robin

American tree sparrow

Barred owl

Blue jay

Scarlet tanager

1. Your work is done, time for yum. I like to stand above anthills and let the little buggers climb all over me. Ants secrete formic acid, which helps me repel mites and other pests. Then I eat them.

2. Belly up! I have been seen wading into water as deep as my stomach to catch small fish to eat. Humans may use worms to catch fish, but that would be a waste of my more common prey.

3. What a “mothful!” In addition to moths and caterpillars, I have been known to eat beetles and their larvae, dragonflies, snails, millipedes and earthworms, as well as buds and berries.

4. News to use: Some of my captive kin have been seen using newspapers strips to gather food into their cages. People tend to forget that I am mostly vegetarian and seem to only remember (and despise) me for occasionally eating the eggs or nestlings of other birds.

5. Don’t stick your nose up at my eating habits! One of my favorite restaurants is an outhouse because it attracts the flies that I like to eat. In some places, I am even known as the “latrine bird.”

6. Beat it! When snow is on the ground, I get tall weeds to release their seeds by beating the weeds with my wings and eating the seeds that fall to the ground.

7. Mind if I have a bite? I don’t feel like hunting today and what that duck has looks pretty tasty! Can you blame me for taking it?

8. In the pink. A few of my kind develop pinkish belly feathers. The cause is thought to be a diet high in crayfish.


1. American crow; 2. American robin; 3. Scarlet tanager; 4. Blue jay; 5. American redstart; 6. American tree sparrow; 7. American coot; 8. Barred owl

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy and layout editor and author of the Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at

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