Do you Eat like a Bird

by Dave Hanks

To eat like a bird is one of the most incorrect analogies I can think of. To most folks, it means that you don’t eat much – just nibble at your food. How untrue that analogy is! Any eagle or other large raptor can consume a whole rabbit at one meal. In fact, most species (large or small) consume half their body weight every day. As a comparison, a 130 pound woman would eat 50 to 70 pounds of food daily. “Great Scot”! Why do birds need that much food? Flight requires tremendous energy, both for body warmth and movement when aloft. When watching seed or insect eating species, notice that they rarely take a break from the task of obtaining their meals; and if feeding baby birds, the search becomes very intense. Not only must the adults feed themselves, but their young require even more than half their weight in daily nourishment.

The bird pictured is a BLACK PHOEBE. It is a southwestern member of the Flycatcher Family. It is a small songbird that is black with a white belly and a notched tail, which it wags, and is white underneath. This phoebe is always found in close proximity to water. The many insects that are found associated with wet areas, are important to fill its feeding needs.

Although it is primarily insectivorous, it will eat some berries, and also tiny fish – which it will also feed to nestlings. Insects are spotted from a low perch and then pursued. Hovering is another hunting method used. The nest is an open cup that’s made of mud, grass, and hair. The female is shown possible sites by the male hovering in front of spots for 5 to 10 seconds, but she makes the final decision – usually under an eave or under a bridge.

This bird is not colorful, but nevertheless attractive. It is also tolerant of people that come into its vicinity.

BLACK PHOEBE Perched and surveying the insect world

Perched and surveying the insect world

South Padre Island: A Spring Bird Bonanza

Flight requires a bird to have a faster metabolism, a faster heart beat, and a higher body temperature. Therefore, more energy is needed in the form of food. Meat eating raptors do not eat as often as others, but the seed and insect eaters feast all through the day. The old saying: “to eat like a bird” is extremely misleading, as birds spend every waking hour in obtaining food. If humans ate like birds, they would consume a significant percent of their body weight every day.

Migrating birds must increase their weight by half in order to have the energy that is required to make the trip. Migration is also very hazardous. So, why don’t they just stay where you would find them nine months of the year? Migrating north has advantages that offset the dangers to a species. More moderate temperatures are conducive to reproduction, so many more eggs are laid, and the longer daylight gives more time to find the necessary food. Birds flying over land can stop, rest, and feed – not so when crossing large water bodies.

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND is about two miles away from the southern tip of Texas. It is often the first land seen and exhausted birds, that have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico; gratefully drop into the trees and bushes to feed and recuperate. A small group of trees and shrubs (by the Island’s Convention center) that is not as big as our yard here in Idaho, is just teeming with species. Photographers from all over the USA, Canada, England, and even South Africa; also flock to this place and line up around the area shoulder to shoulder to get pictures. Every time a bird shows itself, you can hear cameras click- click-clicking in a sudden frenzy.

We photographed two species of orioles, two species of tanagers, ten different warblers, a grosbeak, as well as various other species. The PAINTED BUNTING (Pictured) was a special attraction for everyone. It is a small, seed eating bird, 4 ½ inches long, which looks like a first grader had colored it with four brightly colored crayons.

After four very productive days at this special spot, a strong wind came up from the south. It “huffed and puffed” and blew all the birds north.

A Painted Bunting in his coat of many colors

A Painted Bunting in his coat of many colors