Flesh Eaters

Carnivorous birds, seek or observe and chase, live prey which may be fish or meat. Some will take carrion and others have become general scavengers.

Hunters over Seas and Oceans

These birds are mainly fish eaters which take their prey in a variety of ways including, plunge diving, swimming in pursuit, surface feeding and piratical behaviour:-

  • Plunge dive from height - Gannets are found in both hemispheres. Boobies favour shallower, tropical waters often associated with islands. Tropic Birds are Tern-like plunge divers found in the tropical oceans of the world. Pelicans plunge dive but can also collect fish in the pouch under their lower mandible.
  • Hover, then plunge dive - Terns found in marine and inland waters. They are colonial nesters using scrapes in the ground. The various species are geographical variants with the exception of the Black Tern and the Whiskered Tern which belong to a sub-group called Marsh Terns which mainly eat insects but occasionally fish.
  • Skimmers catch fish near the water surface by skimming the surface with their dagger shaped beaks open.
  • Swim in pursuit of fish - Auks, Murres (Guillemots), Razorbills and Puffin are found in the Northern hemisphere whereas Penguins are found in coastal areas of the Southern hemisphere.
  • Surface feeders - These birds of the seas and oceans feed on or just below the water surface. The larger birds have a pronounced hook at the tip of the upper mandible. Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters - The Northern Fulmar has a southern hemisphere counterpart. Small Gulls tend to be surface feeders but the Large Gulls have become scavengers taking whatever food is available, both at sea and on land. Jaegers and Skuas are pelagic, piratical scavengers as are the Frigate Birds of the southern oceans.

Hunters in Inland Water Bodies

  • Dive from water surface - Grebes are found in all regions of the world where they feed on fish in shallow inland waters, particularly well-vegetated lakes. Cormorants like large lakes and coastal areas. They have evolved in all regions of the world. The Shag has specialised in taking fish on the sea bed and is rarely found inland. Anhingas are found in South America, Africa and Australia. They are very similar to Cormorants but they favour fresh water swamps where they swim under water to spear fish with their dagger beaks.
  • Swoop down to take fish near water surface in talons -Osprey, Fish Eagles, Sea Eagles.
  • Plunge divers - Loons are found in marine and inland waters in northern latitudes,

Hunters in Wetlands and Marshlands

  • Patience and concentration characterise Herons, Egrets, Bitterns as they watch for their prey. Herons and Egrets are confident hunters whereas Bitterns are secretive and use the reedbeds for camouflage.

Hunters in Rivers and Shallow waters

Plunge divers - Kingfishers catch fish in rivers and shallow bodies of water. Not all Kingfishers eat fish and crustaceans – some eat lizards, snakes, small animals and a few even eat small birds.

• Alcedinidae genus are river birds.
• Cerylidae, Chloroceryle, and Megaceryle genera are also associated with water.
• Halcyonidae genus are forest and woodland birds often found well away from water.

Kookaburras plus genus Halcyonidae Kingfishers are woodland birds which eat snakes and lizards. I count 16 species but there may be more.

Hunters over Land.

Habitats are many and various as indicated by the sub-groups listed below:-

Diurnal Hunters- use their excellent sight and acute sense of smell to find their prey.

Thermal riders- Lammergeier hunts later in the day to use thermals to gain height and widen their search area.
Aerial hunters - Griffon Vulture hunts earlier in the day because they don't need to wait for thermals to develop.
Kill seekers - Vultures use their sense of smell to feed at wild animal kills.
Wooded valleys - Red Kite.
Fly low over reed beds and farmland -Marsh Harrier.
Treeless moor-land - Hen Harrier.
Wooded habitats - Sparrowhawk, Hobby.
Dense forests - Goshawks
Coastal marshland - Merlin, Peregrine Falcon.
Roadways - Kestrel.

Nocturnal Hunters - use their excellent sight and hearing to hunt their prey.

Woodland Areas- Barn Owl, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl.
Bushy heaths - Nightjars.

Opportunistic Foragers.

These birds are opportunistic scavengers rather than hunters. They are usually seen perched in trees ready to take any type of food they can find. Although they are not as large as the birds of prey they are nevertheless very bold and often aggressive. They are all omnivorous and some will take carrion when it is available.

The main sub-group are listed in family Corvidae and are commonly known as Corvids. They are believed to have evolved in Australia about 30 mya. Their greatest development is in the northern hemisphere but they are found in most parts of the world except the Arctic and the south of South America.

General Habitats.

Habitats and ways of feeding are difficult to define and territories often overlap:-

Forest and Woodland - Ravens are large birds which like to perch near the top of the tallest trees. Crows are found in most parts of the world. They will eat almost anything and have inevitably adapted to a scavenging lifestyle near human habitation. The more primitive species probably evolved in the Afro/Asian region.

Grassland near cliffs in coastal areas - Jackdaws are grassland feeders and can be seen probing the ground for invertebrates. Rooks have a tapering beak and bare face which facilitates probing deep into the soil for worms and larvae. Magpies and Treepies are mainly birds of the Eurasian region with just two species in North America. Azure-winged Magpies are only found in Southwest Europe and Southeast Asia.

High alpine regions - Choughs (two species) are found in high alpine areas of Eurasia where their main food is invertebrates found on the ground. Nutcrackers are inhabitants of mountain forest areas in Northern Eurasia and Western, North America. Like the other Corvids, they were originally opportunistic foragers which would eat small nestlings and carrion. However they have adapted and have found a specialist niche in the coniferous forests in Eurasia and North America where their beaks are ideally suited to prising seeds out of pine cones.

Jays have not developed the varied feeding habits of the Crows. The Eurasian Jay exhibits the black moustache / eye-stripe which is also seen in the Shrikes. New World Jays are noticeably different.

In the Eastern Hemisphere Ravens, Crows and Magpies predominate. Going West Jays tend to be more in evidence. In Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica the only members of the Corvid group are the Jays.

Australian Forest and Woodland.

Open woodland - Australian Mudnesters – the White-winged Chough and the Apostlebird listed in family Corcoracidae. They are found in open eucalyptus woodlands where they take small invertebrates from the ground.

Magpielarks are not actually related to the Magpies or the Larks. Currently they are tentatively listed in family Monarchidae. They are aggressive, ground dwelling carnivores known in Australia as Mudlarks.

Butcherbirds and Currawongs are listed in family Cracticidae. Butcherbirds cannot hold their prey with their feet. Instead, they carry their prey back to their perch where they wedge it in a fork or impale it on a thorn. Currawongs are omnivorous foragers. Australian Magpie is also listed in family Cracticidae. It is an omnivorous forager which spends much of its time on the ground.

New World Endemics - Family Icteridae.

Grackles are birds of the Americas and appear to be the counterparts of the Crows. They represent an extreme adaptation to human created habitation. They are common in suburban areas where they eat invertebrates, seeds, fruit and nuts. They have been known to kill small birds. They favour similar habitats to the Crows but also have an affinity for coastal areas and water. Some have even been seen taking fish from shallow waters.