Backyard Birds That Eat Other Birds

Last Updated on July 18, 2021 by Nancie

Common Grackle
(Common Grackle)

While most birds in your yard probably consume insects and/or seeds, some backyard birds do eat other birds. Some target adult birds. Some eat other birds’ nestlings. And some eat the eggs of other birds. Do you know which ones? You might be surprised!

Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Recently I was replying to a comment on my post about “Feeding Peanuts to Backyard Birds” and I realized that I really wasn’t sure whether or not Red-Bellied Woodpeckers cached peanuts. In reading about Red-Bellied Woodpeckers’ diet and food storage habits on Cornell’s Birds of the World website, I was surprised to read that this particular woodpecker is known to eat the eggs of other birds.

This discovery lead me to wonder if there are other birds in my backyard that might eat eggs, nestlings or even adult birds that I was not aware of. So I looked up each bird on my “Maryland Backyard Birds” post on Birds of the World. Because I focused on birds found in my own yard, I don’t claim that the list I came up with is complete. But I did find it quite interesting.

My List

Most of the species on the list known to eat adult birds probably won’t surprise you, with one possible exception. The list of birds known to consume other birds’ nestlings is similar plus two, while the list of egg eaters is a fairly eclectic group of birds.

I’ve included family and genus for each bird, but in many cases, I found that while a particular bird in a family or a genus might eat other birds or nestlings or eggs, it doesn’t mean that others in the group include such things in their diet. I also found it interesting that the hawks on the list consume adult birds and nestlings but apparently not eggs.

Juvenile Cooper's hawk Eating a House Finch
Juvenile Cooper’s hawk Eating a House Finch

Birds: Backyard Birds Known To Eat Adult Birds

Red-Shouldered Hawk (Family: Accipitridae. Genus: Buteo)

Cooper’s Hawk (Family: Accipitridae. Genus: Accipiter)

Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Family: Accipitridae. Genus: Accipiter)

Common Grackle (rarely) (Family: Icteridae. Genus: Quiscalus)

Fish Crow
Fish Crow

Nestlings: Backyard Birds Known To Eat Other Bird’s Nestlings

Red-Shouldered Hawk (Family: Accipitridae. Genus: Buteo) (one report)

Cooper’s Hawk (Family: Accipitridae. Genus: Accipiter)

Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Family: Accipitridae. Genus: Accipiter)

Fish Crow (Family: Corvidae. Genus: Corvus)

American Crow (Family: Corvidae. Genus: Corvus)

Blue Jay (Family: Corvidae. Genus: Cyanocitta)

Common Grackle (Family: Icetridae. Genus: Quiscalus)

Red-Bellied Woodpecker (occasionally) (Family: Picidea. Genus: Melanerpes)

Blue Jay
Blue Jay

Eggs: Backyard Birds Known To Eat Other Bird’s Eggs

Fish Crow (Family: Corvidae. Genus: Corvus)

American Crow (Family: Corvidae. Genus: Corvus)

Blue Jay (Family: Corvidae. Genus: Cyanocitta)

Common Grackle (Family: Icetridae. Genus: Quiscalus)

Brown-Headed Cowbird (Family: Icetridae. Genus: Molothrus)

Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Family: Picidea. Genus: Melanerpes)

Black-Capped Chickadees (reported in three studies) (Family: Paridae. Genus: Poecile)

Female Brown-Headed Cowbird
Female Brown-Headed Cowbird

A Couple Notes

Black-Capped Chickadees

The Black-Capped Chickadees were the bird that most surprised me. I couldn’t find any other references to eating bird eggs from other available sources so I’m not sure how common this might be. I did see some reports of them removing eggs from bluebird nests, but the impression from those reports seemed to be that it was about competition for nesting space. (Note: In my yard, we actually see Carolina Chickadees rather than Black-Capped Chickadees. There don’t appear to be similar reports for them.)

Brown-Headed Cowbirds

All About Birds’ Brown-Headed Cowbird page suggests that the reason that female Brown-Headed Cowbirds will eat shells and eggs is a need for calcium. Their parasitic approach to laying many eggs in the nests of other birds makes calcium a priority apparently.

Squirrel in a Tree
Squirrel in Tree

Other Backyard Bird-Eating Creatures

Also, keep in mind that other creatures in the yard kill and consume adult birds, nestlings and/or eggs. For example, cats are a major bird predator. And snakes will climb into bird nests to get eggs and/or nestlings. Squirrels, being omnivorous, also eat meat. Because adult birds are hard to catch, they are not a big part of squirrels’ diet, but they will sometimes eat eggs, nestlings or already dead adult birds as will raccoons and rats. Praying Mantises will kill and consume hummingbirds if they can.

It Can Be a Hard Life For a Bird!

Does this list surprise you in any way? Have you seen any of these birds going after other adult birds, nestlings or eggs? Please feel welcome to comment below.

Nancie

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7 thoughts on “Backyard Birds That Eat Other Birds

  1. Oh dear… this might be the worry that throws me over the top. Nature is brutal. Informative as always…but distressing!!!

    1. Hi Anne,
      Please don’t be distressed. It is just the way the natural world works. When you think about it, people are omnivorous like some birds. Some of us are vegetarians or vegan but many of us do eat meat. Just like some birds only eat seeds and no insects (American Goldfinches) while other bird species eat both seeds and insects (Northern Cardinal) and some bird species eat meat (hawks).

      Birds do have a life full of risks. But one way to look at it is that when we offer birds food and water and cover, we often make those lives a little easier in that way.

      Good wishes,
      Nancie

    1. Hi Frances,
      To ID the birds you are seeing, you might try All About Birds’ Merlin Guide. You can get it as a phone app or go to this page on their website (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/#), click on the “Get Instant ID Help” button there and answer the questions to narrow down what your birds might be.
      Good wishes!
      Nancie

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t include the nastiest of culprits: House Sparrows who kill other birds and their nestlings, particularly bluebirds. (Although they don’t eat them – they just kill for the seeming joy of it.) I’m still making my way through your wonderful site, and the house sparrow/bluebird issue is likely covered elsewhere, but I didn’t want anyone moving on from this article without noting how destructive those nasty sparrows are!

    1. Hi Midwest Chick,
      That’s an interesting point. With this post, I was really focusing on what birds eat and specifically which common backyard birds (at least common in my area) eat other birds. But yes, there are also birds that attack and sometimes kill other birds because of competition for nesting spots. That was my main reason for wanting to chase a growing flock of House Sparrows out of my yard a couple of years ago. I do have a couple posts on what I did to get them to move on.
      Nancie

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