Backyard Birds That Eat Other Birds

Last Updated on June 3, 2024 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!

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

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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22 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

  3. What birds would eat doves? We have had several doves foraging in our yard and yesterday, there were feathers and a piece of carcass left over. Hawks? Something else? We live in the intermountain area.

    Our yard is fully fenced and anything large couldn’t enter, so much be something that fly’s?

    Thanks for the reply!

    1. Hi Asa,
      Hawks are a good possibility. In my yard (which is a wooded Maryland suburban yard), Mourning Doves are a favorite food of Cooper’s Hawks. They are slower and probably easier to catch than many of the smaller birds. I think other larger hawks, like Red-Shouldered Hawks for example, would also find doves to be a tasty target. Usually though, when a Cooper’s Hawk gets one of the doves in my yard, I see a pile of feathers and nothing else. The piece of carcass leftover is different than what I’ve seen. It could be that the hawk was interrupted. Or it could be that it was something else like a cat of some kind. Doves tend to be ground feeding birds which can make them more vulnerable to some predators like cats. And cats can sometimes climb over or wiggle into areas that other critters can’t.
      Nancie

      1. I have mourning doves in my backyard that I adore. For the past couple of days, a blue jay was trying to get to the nestling. Well, yesterday, it succeeded and killed it. It was so traumatic to witness. I just wanted to add that it could have been a blue jay. Is there any way to get the blue jay to move on?

        1. Hi Tracey,
          It’s so hard to witness something like that. My understanding is that while Blue Jays will attack nestlings, it is rare. But apparently you have a rare one in your yard.

          I haven’t tried to discourage Blue Jays myself. Obviously using cage feeders to offer food would block Blue Jays from the feeder but that would also block the Mourning Doves. I’m reading that when jays do go after a nestling, it could be because of food scarcity so blocking them might also backfire possibly. But birds don’t read the internet; they follow their own rules and are also individuals. I don’t know if a jay’s motivation in cases like this has been studied so I can’t say if offering them an alternative food (suet maybe?) would help at all.

          It my yard, Blue Jays are around but are not at the feeders all the time. They come swooping in when I put the peanuts out each day and obsess over suet in the spring when they have young to feed. I’m sure some of them have nests nearby this time of year. The food I have available in the open feeders they can access is safflower. They eat that readily but I don’t think it is really a favorite. I hear them around all the time but they don’t hang out at the feeders all the time like some birds will. I suspect that even if I took down all my feeders, that they would still be around because there are other houses with other feeders and, this time of year, lots of bugs to eat. And of course, as long as they have an active nest of their own, they aren’t going to leave.

          I’m sorry but I don’t really have a solid answer for you.
          Nancie

    2. My back yard host cardinals, robins, house and purple finches, and house sparrows, all without a problem including sharing the bird bath. The only real problem are the black birds that frequently fly into the trees housing the nests-do not know why. As for the partly consumed dove, I watched a young bald eagle consume a pigeon in my neighbor’s yard, amazingly seemed to play with it like a cat-tossing it up, dancing around and going back to feed. FYI, we live in southern Delaware in an over 55 community which may contribute to the number of year round bird population..

  4. Wow,I feed wild little birds,no wonder they seem nervous all the time.I feed them and the Squirrels together Crunchy Peanut butter and Corn flakes.You learn something everyday.
    THANK YOU

  5. I was walking through my backyard today and heard a click in my poplar tree. A small pileated woodpecker fell dead to the ground and another bird flew away at the same time. I did not see what kind of bird flew away because I was so shocked to see the woodpecker falling. Could the other bird have killed this bird?

    1. Hi Donna,
      It does seem likely. Possibly a hawk? Usually a hawk would take the bird with it but if it was startled by your presence in the area, it might have dropped the woodpecker.
      Nancie

  6. I just witnessed what looked like two birds fighting in the grass of my neighbor’s yard, a Common Grackle and a smaller bird, possibly an adult sparrow. The Grackle then stood on top of the other bird, started pulling out the other bird’s feathers and then was eating it like a hawk would! A disturbing sight indeed!

    (By the way, lots of valuable info on your site. Thanks for that.)

  7. Blue Jays occasionally eat adult hummingbirds. In mid-September of 2023, I saw a blue jay dive steeply from the top of a very tall evergreen tree, then level out about 15 feet above the ground, as though the steep dive was purposefully done to build up speed. It quickly caught a hummingbird that appeared to have briefly accelerated in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the blue jay. That was the first and only time I’ve seen that happen.

  8. Hi Nanice,
    Thank you very much for your valuable insight. I woke up this morning to find 5 nestlings scattered across our barn floor under their nest above the barn light. Four were dead and looked to be mutilated (maybe pecked?). The fifth had a small blood spot but was moving his legs and opening his mouth (eyes were still closed). I did also see a large adult black feather nearby (the babies are gray). Maybe the perpetrator was a crow?

    I was able to gently place the nestling back in the nest. Hoping that recovery is possible but I realize this is a long shot.

    Thank you again,
    Tracy

    1. Hi Tracy,
      I’m sorry to hear that. If the nestling bodies were still there, I suspect that what happened was not actually an attempt to eat the nestlings. I could be wrong, but I would suspect that another bird, possibly another species, attached the birds in order to claim the nest space or because it didn’t want the competition in the territory. Sometimes the parent birds are killed as well. Sometimes not. Hopefully the parents will return but they may not. You might want to keep an eye on the area to see what happens.
      Good luck,
      Nancie

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