Whether you’re a birder or have pet birds on your own, you may wonder: which species of birds can eat upside down? The answer is, quite a few of them!
Some birds have specially adapted beaks and necks that allow them to feed upside down, such as the Bee hummingbird and the Anna’s Hummingbird.
The Bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world, and it can hover in mid-air while feeding on flowers. Anna’s Hummingbird is slightly larger and has a long, curved beak that allows it to reach nectar deep inside flower blossoms.
In addition to these two species of hummingbird, there are also several types of finch that can feed upside down, such as the Cassin’s finch and the Purple finch. These finches have shorter beaks than other types of finches, which allows them to feed on insects and other small prey that are hidden beneath leaves or in crevices.
Keep reading to learn about a few other species of birds that can eat upside down.
Which Birds Eat Upside Down?
Some birds are able to eat while hanging upside down from a tree branch or other surface. The ability to feed in this position is made possible by a number of adaptations, including the anatomy of the bird’s digestive system and the structure of its feet.
The majority of birds that feed upside down are members of the order Passeriformes, which includes over half of all bird species. Among this diverse group of birds are acrobatic species such as woodpeckers and starlings, as well as more sedentary types such as finches and sparrows.
Why Do Some Birds Feed Upside Down?
While some birds feed upside down exclusively, others only do so occasionally, depending on the type of food they are eating.
For example, many seed-eating birds will hang upside down to reach deep into a flower head or cone. Insect-eating birds may also flip over to access hard-to-reach prey.
These birds often hop around on trees and bushes, looking for insects to eat. When they find an insect, they will sometimes hang upside down to reach it.
Some larger birds also feed upside down, including woodpeckers and robins. These birds use their strong beaks to pry the insects out of tree bark or leaves.
By hanging upside down, they can reach places that other birds cannot. As a result, they are able to find food that other birds cannot access.
Regardless of why they do it, feeding upside down is yet another example of the amazing adaptability of birds.
Can All Birds Eat Upside Down?
The ability to eat upside down is determined by the structure of the bird’s lower jaw. The lower jaw of a bird that can eat upside down has a projection called the culmen, which curves downwards and backward. This projecting shape gives the bird extra space to open its mouth wide while hanging upside down.
Additionally, the tongue of an upside-down eater is usually shorter and less extensible than that of other birds.
These two adaptations allow birds to reach deep into flowers and feed on nectar even when they are hanging upside down. However, not all birds have these adaptations, which limits their ability to feed in this way.
Which Birds Can’t Feed Upside Down?
While there are many birds that can feed upside down, there are plenty that can’t. Birds that primarily hunt on the ground, such as quail and partridges, tend to feed right-side up. Additionally, some large birds, such as eagles and owls, also tend to eat right-side up.
Another striking example is the Kiwi, a flightless bird. It is native to New Zealand and cannot turn its head more than 45 degrees in either direction. As a result, the kiwi must feed with its head pointing downwards.
There are also a few species of waterbirds, such as the giant petrel and albatross, that can only feed while sitting on the surface of the water. However, these birds typically have long necks that allow them to reach down into the water to catch their prey.
Nuthatch: The Upside-Down Bird
There’s one bird, above all, that’s notorious for its ability to feed upside down: the nuthatch.
Nuthatches are small, stocky birds with short tails and sharp bills. They are excellent climbers and often move up and down tree trunks head-first. These birds are found in all temperate zones throughout the northern hemisphere.
The Red-breasted nuthatch, which generally prefers coniferous trees, is the most common in North America, while the Brown-headed nuthatches live in pine forests of the Southeast.
Meanwhile, the White-breasted nuthatch, a resident of well-treed backyards and deciduous woods, is the most famous member of the family. This nuthatch is the largest of its kind, measuring nearly 6.5 inches in length. Males are gray on their backs with black caps and white underbellies.
What Birds Hang Upside Down on a Bird Feeder?
The bird that hangs upside down on a bird feeder is most likely a nuthatch. Nuthatches are attracted to bird feeders that offer sunflower seeds, nuts, or suet.
To reach the food, they will cling to the side of the feeder and hang upside down.
Nuthatches will also visit backyard bird baths, where they will dangle from the edge while bathing. Although they are not particularly colorful birds, nuthatches are interesting to watch and can be a welcome addition to any backyard birding setup.
Another example is the woodpecker. The woodpecker will wedge its bill into a crevice on the underside of the feeder and then hang upside down while feeding. This feeding position allows the woodpecker to use its long tongue to reach the seeds that are hidden inside the feeder.
Of course, we can’t finish this list without mentioning chickadees, small birds with black and white markings.
They are known for their acrobatic abilities, and they often hang upside down from branches in order to reach insects. Chickadees are also attracted to bird feeders, where they will often perch upside down in order to reach the seed.
So, as you can see, there are many birds that can feed while upside down. The most common type is part of the nuthatch family; however, warblers, finches, chickadees, and woodpeckers can also achieve this unique feat.
Just remember: seeing a bird feeding upside down isn’t a sign of distress, it means it’s found a good, yet difficult to reach, source of nourishment. Thankfully, its biology assists them with accessing it!