Several species of songbirds, owls, and small shorebirds use their acute sense of hearing to hunt for worms and other small insects. Though incredibly faint, they can detect dirt particles grinding together as worms dig through the ground.
What You'll Learn
Birds have incredible eyesight, which they use to spot prey from above and from afar. However, what is less known is how much a bird’s sense of hearing helps it locate prey.
Studies conducted on robins have confirmed that even without being able to see worms from above, robins can find worms using sound alone.
How Do We Know Birds Can Hear Worms?
The Famous Robin Study
When you watch a small bird hop across your lawn, you will probably notice how its head tilts as if it is listening for something. As it turns out, they are!
A short study was conducted on robins to find out if they could hear the worms that make up so much of their diet. During the experiment, worms were concealed behind a barrier and blocked from view.
They also took steps to prevent the bird from using their other senses to find the worms, such as by smell or touch.
Despite the other senses being blocked, robins were still able to easily find the worms even though they couldn’t see them.
Birds Rely On Their Hearing to Find Worms
The biologists conducting the study also wanted to see if the robins could find the worms without their sense of hearing. They found that their sense of hearing is extremely important to their ability to find worms and other insects. It took the robins significantly longer to find the worms without being able to hear them.
Birds Have Much Better Hearing Than We Thought
In birds, hearing is primarily used to listen for threats and dangers. It is also used to search for prey (such as worms or insects).
While it is unknown how important sound is in finding food for every bird species, it can substantially affect a bird’s ability to survive and socialize. Oilbirds and swiftlets are two species of birds that have incredible hearing. Like bats, they use echolocation for flight navigation at night.
Can All Birds That Eat Worms Hear Them?
Both Robins and Magpies have been observed using their sense of hearing to find food. As previously discussed, a study was conducted on robins to see if they can hunt worms using their sense of hearing. There was a similar study with magpies. However, instead of worms, they used scarab beetle grubs.
Similar to how robins could hear the worms, magpies could hear the beetle larvae chewing grass.
Although researchers haven’t studied every type of bird, we can assume that all species of small birds with similar diets and habits use hearing to find worms and other prey. These varied species include finches, woodpeckers, and parrots, to name just a few.
Certain larger game birds such as quail, turkeys, and pheasants eat worms and other small insects and likely use their hearing to hunt.
While insects and worms make up a smaller part of a game bird’s diet, they can be vital sources of protein when it is more difficult to find other food.
What About Birds That Don’t Eat Worms?
Most birds have an incredibly acute sense of hearing, which they use to hunt and avoid potential dangers.
The sensitivity of a bird’s hearing can vary, sometimes significantly, based on the species. Owls, for instance, are known for having the best sense of hearing out of all birds. Not all owls eat worms (or even insects) despite being able to hear and find them.
Certain species, such as large predatory birds like eagles or hawks, do not eat worms. However, they still use their sharp sense of hearing when hunting for small animals and other prey.
Certain smaller species of bird are herbivorous and do not eat any type of worm or insect. Geese, for example, are grazing birds and eat mainly grasses. Although geese have exceptional hearing, they use it to avoid predators and communicate. However, we do not know if geese can hear worms.
Birds Have an Incredible Sense of Hearing
Most birds have an incredibly acute sense of hearing. It is used in nearly every aspect of their lives, including the ability to communicate with each other.
Birds sing, caw, hoot, and chirp to make their territories clear to other birds. They use their hearing to protect themselves and warn other birds from potential dangers and predators.
Even if they don’t hunt for worms, most birds can still hear or detect them to some extent.
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I am Bryan Powell and I own BirdHour.com. I love bird watching; in fact, I have a parakeet of my own. I enjoy spending time outdoors and observing the natural world around me. This website is a means of sharing my passion for birds with others who may be interested in this activity.