do birds chew their food

Something stuck in my throat

Certain birds, such as owls and other prey birds, eat a lot of indigestible material. Things like tiny animal skulls with teeth that the gizzard’s muscular action and acid cannot break down are compressed into a pellet and mashed together with feathers and fur.

This pellet is subsequently passed back into the proventriculus after it has formed. Because they have more acid in their first chamber, falcons and hawks create smaller, easier-to-manage pellets; however, because owls have less acid, their pellets will be larger and more composed of material.

Because they do not have crops, the pellet obstructs the oesophagus, preventing the birds from eating while they are breaking down and forming the pellet. Owl pellets are frequently found on the ground at the base of trees, indicating that their nest is directly above your head. Owls dislike losing energy that they cannot replenish by flying, and they typically take their food home to consume it.

If you soak a pellet in water (don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards, kids), you can frequently see the partial or complete skeleton of a poor, departed mouse. Keep an eye out for an owl that appears to be about to release a large amount of food if you ever notice it acting a little uneasy and hungry at the same time.

Courtesy of gailhampshire, Wikimedia Commons

Given that a bird’s digestive system is optimized to extract maximum nutrients in the quickest amount of time, it is crucial that any food we provide for them be rich in the finest nutrients.

Ignoring the urban myth of bursting birds, this is the reason bread is bad for ducks and geese. They will eat it and enjoy it, no doubt, but since it’s basically just carbohydrates, it’s not good for them.

That entire digestive energy expenditure will be in vain and result in nothing. Birds need food that is good for their health; otherwise, we are only contributing to their demise.

The best thing you can do for birds is, as always, to plant trees and shrubs that will supply the fruits, nuts, and seeds that are vital to the diet of your local birds and known migrants. By doing this, you are not only giving them food, but also shelter from predators, a place to start a new life, and a place to stop and rest, if only temporarily, while they are well-fed.

Please try again. Thank you for your support. Please follow us on our social media channels.


About the author: Our writer and researcher for the Bird Buddy blog is Sim Wood. She is currently remodeling her Slovenian property with her spouse and making do without a plan. She is also proficient in 72 bird species’ calls and songs. Favorite bird: shoebill.

Bhoomika has a degree in Biological Sciences from Sophia Girls College, Ajmer. Apart from writing, she adores travelling to offbeat destinations that offer more than just tourism. Being a strong supporter of women in STEM, she derives her inspiration from trailblazing personalities such as Marie Curie and Jane Goodall.

Bird Digestion – From Beak To Cloaca

do birds chew their food

Courtesy of Vzzz, Pixahive

For their incredibly high energy needs, such as flight, the production of eggs, and their special breathing mechanism, birds need to eat a lot. Birds require an effective digestive system to sustain their high metabolic rate, so let’s look past the beak.

Similar to humans, birds are opportunistic and will feed at any time of day if food is available. They forage for food shortly after dawn to replenish energy lost from simply staying alive overnight, and in the evening to replenish energy after a day of intense activity.

Not only will they need to digest that food quickly to survive the winter nights or get ready for a lengthy migration flight, but they will also need to do this for practically everything a bird does.

Their core temperatures are a few degrees higher than ours, and in order to maintain blood flow and muscular contraction, that tiny furnace must be maintained.

While there is occasional relaxation, it is rare because predators can be found around every corner. Because birds are unable to defend themselves, they must fly, which demands a lot of energy.

Fast digestion also aids in the rapid gain of body mass in newborns, which is very beneficial if you have to travel to Africa within two months of your birth.

Birds break up their food with their specially designed beaks and then ingest it through their mouths and digestive systems. Because they are unable to chew, birds will either peck off tiny portions of food from feeders or fly off with larger morsels to chip away at them in the relative safety of tree branches.

Similar to this, raptors will rip smaller pieces from the larger carcass, frequently grabbing the food with their talons. Certain birds, like shrikes, will impale their food on a sharp branch and tear it off; other birds, like the bearded vulture, will bash it against rocks to break it up.

When a bird swallows, it tips its head back, transferring the food to the throat. It then passes through the pharynx—a narrow passageway that connects the mouth to the internal organs—using its tongue and saliva.

This is where things get interesting. Food travels via the oesophagus, the same basic passageway that humans use to swallow food, but a bird’s food first passes through an organ called the crop, which is located in the thoraciccavity beneath the bill.

Of course, the type of bird we’re looking at will determine how it digests. While most species follow the same general procedures, some anatomical features, such as the size and form of internal organs, differ.

The crop is one of the primary variations that you will genuinely be able to observe. When full, this is sometimes visible as a raised mound of feathers, but on many species it is hidden internally. If you are ever fortunate enough to hold a bird, you might be able to feel a lumpy, gritty sort of sac in their neck.

It can also be somewhat alarmingly obvious on other birds. For instance, the frigatebird uses its enormous, bright red crop in courtship dances. It inflates it and plays it like an acoustic instrument to display its protuberance and draw in a mate. Owls consume their food whole and don’t have any crops; more on that later.

Courtesy of Soerfm, Wikimedia Commons

Rather than being a component of the digestive system per se, the crop serves primarily as a storage space. It is advantageous in many situations to be able to eat large amounts at once without immediately digesting them, such as when feeding in the open, which poses a significant risk to many birds.

Rather than repeatedly going back to extract tiny amounts, they could steal an entire flower seed head, complete with leaves and stem, and store it in their crop, letting it break down gradually as the oesophagus allows. Additionally, parent birds store partially digested food in their crops, which they tenderly refeed to their chicks.

Food enters the first of a bird’s stomach’s two chambers after it leaves the crop.

The first chamber, known as the proventriculus, essentially acts as an acid-dousing area, aiding in the breakdown of the food’s solid mass. This acid can either spark a meal to within an inch of its composite structure, depending on the species’ diet. The tougher and more bony the meal, the more acid it will produce.

Some of us are probably more familiar with the term “second chamber”—the gizzard This organ, which is larger, tougher, and more muscular than all the others because it must perform a lot of work, is prized by some as a delicacy.

With the aid of the food being soaked in acid in the chamber before it, all of the food grinding occurs here. Sometimes, however, gizzards can’t accomplish everything by themselves. For example, certain materials, like rice, grit, and seed kernels, require more work than just muscles rubbing them together. You can also frequently observe ground-feeding birds, like pigeons, pecking at gravel and other particles.

By assisting the gizzard in breaking down the food into smaller pieces, this mineral matter increases the amount of essential nutrients that are absorbed.

For birds that consume soft foods like fruits and insects in the summer, the gizzard will shrink in size; however, when seeds and grains are once again available in the winter, the gizzard will grow larger and more powerful.

Courtesy of CNX OpenStax, Wikimedia Commons

The grebe is one animal that has made a noteworthy adaptation to its gizzard: by swallowing its own feathers, it forms a filtering system that settles in the base of the gizzard before entering the small intestine.

Any tiny, indigestible fish bones that have gotten through are trapped by this and will later cause immense harm if they pass through again.

After the lining of this magnificent stomach has absorbed as much of the valuable nutrients as possible, the remaining nutrients and water are extracted in the small and large intestines, where microbial assistance prepares any remaining material into faeces for eventual expulsion.

The intestines of different species vary in length. For instance, the intestine of a swift, which only eats insects in the summer, is only about three times its body length, while the intestines of birds that eat plants, fish, and tougher flesh can be twenty times longer. These differences in intestine size are the result of natural selection.

Rougher food typically takes a half day or longer to pass through a thrush’s intestine, but berries can pass through in less than 30 minutes.

Birds don’t urinate because, after the food’s remains pass through the large intestine, any nitrogenous waste that was previously extracted from the meal is reintroduced as uric acid from the kidneys, completing the digestive process.

This mixes with the remaining solid material to create a white paste, which leaves the bird through the rectum, also called the avian vent (cloaca). Additionally, sperm from the male bird enters through this opening to fertilize the eggs. Another example of a bird’s economical organ functions, conserving energy.


Do birds eat their food whole?

Birds do not have teeth, although they may have ridges on their bills that help them grip food. Birds swallow their food whole, and their gizzard (a muscular part of their stomach) grinds up the food so they can digest it.

Do all birds swallow their food whole?

Without the teeth and chewing muscles that humans have, birds often swallow their food whole. While some birds may rip apart their prey, or they may break up a seed, many species, such as herons and pelicans, are frequently reliant on the ol’ tip your head back and down the hatch method.

Do birds need to chew?

Why do birds not need to chew their prey, unlike mammals? Birds have a muscular chamber called the gizzard, which mammals do not, and it’s full of stones called gastroliths. Wild birds have to pick grit from the ground to keep the gizzard supplied with them.

Do birds bite food?

Birds can’t chew their food – if you’ve ever watched them at feeders you will see they peck off tiny amounts, or will fly away with a larger morsel and then chip away at it in the relative safety of tree branches.