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Every day, many birds fly for miles to find food. They eat and drink constantly to keep their energy up and perform their complex feathered wonders. But how long could they go without feeding? What if they don’t have access to water? How much time do they have before starving?

Scientists have done research to find out how long birds can survive without food or water. The results are surprising. Many birds can go long periods without eating a morsel or taking a sip of water. Some birds, such as the male hummingbird and the migratory robin, can live off their body fat for several days before they die from starvation.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the common species and discuss how long before these birds require a meal.

Variables To Consider

Birds are small animals with very high metabolisms. These animals need plenty of food and water to help them maintain their bodily functions and avoid starvation. If a bird has plenty of food, it will be able to maintain its body temperature and keep itself alive for a long time in the event that it doesn’t eat or drink water for some time. However, there are many factors to consider which determine the length of time a bird can go without food.

Habitat and Climate

Colourful birds

Tropical Bird Species

Wild birds that live in tropical and warm environments have a high metabolism; therefore, they need to eat more and drink more water than birds that live in cold weather. Since warm-weather birds need more food, they find it harder to survive when there is insufficient food nearby. Many tropical birds, who can live up to a month without eating or drinking water, usually feed on fruit or insects which are readily available in their natural habitat.

Water is also vital for the digestion of food in the stomach of many birds. If a bird does not get enough water, then it may die even if it has eaten recently. Bird survival without enough water is improbable, as it will have trouble breathing or may be unable to regulate its body temperature.

High Altitude Birds

Bird species who live in high altitudes need relatively more food and water to avoid starvation. Birds can need up to three times as much food and twice as much water as a bird living in lower altitudes. The air is thinner at higher elevations, and the birds must drink more water to stay hydrated and keep their digestive system from shutting down.

Desert Birds

In the desert, where conditions are hot, dry, and dusty, some birds must find their own food supplies so they can make it through the summer. Many desert birds can survive for weeks without a meal because they store enough fat in their bodies to last through these tough conditions.

Some desert bird species, such as finches and sparrows, have special eyelids that help reduce water loss when they are eating. In times of stress, these birds will use their beak to peck out the scales of other animals and eat them. This is an efficient way for birds to survive very long periods of time without food or water.

Jungle Birds

Birds that live in the jungles of South America store their food within their stomachs. These wild birds don’t eat for weeks at a time. It is possible for these birds to survive without food as long as they have enough water stored in their bodies.

Jungle bird species have very high metabolisms, so they require more water to maintain normal body functions and more food to keep up with their energy needs. Parrots, on the other hand, can survive longer without food compared to without water.

Body Weight

According to a study done by Eddie Pfeiffer of the University of Texas, a bird needs to eat one-third of its body weight daily to survive.

A bird’s body condition can play a significant role in its survival time without food. A well-fed, plump pigeon may survive longer than an underweight one. A healthy bird will have more fat reserves to draw on when losing weight than one who is ill or injured.

Body Fat

A warm owl

Birds that live in cold climates, such as owls, have thick down feathers that serve as good insulation and help them maintain a constant temperature. The woolly-feathered creatures can live off of their body fat for several weeks before they succumb to starvation. They are able to avoid starvation because they have special proteins that can convert their stored fat into a food source.

During the winter, our feathered friends require more energy for their body weight to maintain a normal body temperature. Energy is required to produce heat and keep muscles warm.

If a bird is lean, it will have less fat reserves to keep it warm when the weather gets colder and less energy reserves for other activities. A skinny species such as a small songbird will not survive as long as larger birds with sufficient fat reserves.

In recent studies, researchers found that at normal temperatures (23-30 degrees celsius) European starlings can last up to a few days without feeding. In comparison, a medium-sized songbird can last a day or two longer due to its fat reserves. In colder temperatures, this figure is reduced by a day, respectively, and even less for baby birds.

Time Of Year

Breeding season for birds typically begins when temperatures become warmer. Birds need more food and water during this time of year because they are expending a lot more energy in order to build nests and feeding baby birds which require a lot of nutrients. Breeding season is also the cause of death for many birds because they do not eat or drink due to their full schedules and overly active state.

Also, parents will often feed their baby birds first before taking care of their own personal needs, such as eating and drinking.

Common Bird Feeding FAQ’s

budgie eating lime

Will a bird starve itself to death?

The answer is that if it has an insatiable appetite and can’t get to food, it will starve. Hunger will not kill a bird fast enough. A starving bird might pass away at any time, but most adult birds can go a week or two without food. Once the bird starts feeding, you probably won’t see him for days because he’s wolfing down food to make up for the time he was out of commission during starvation.

When a bird starves, will it die?

No. starvation certainly can kill a bird, but it doesn’t always, and death isn’t the first effect of starvation. Hunger may cause a bird to go into shock. This is an emergency condition caused by the loss of essential nutrients and fluids, and is often fatal if not recognized and treated quickly. Birds are also prone to dehydration from drinking too little, which can lead to other symptoms and even death within hours or sometimes minutes.

Do I need to provide food for my garden birds?

You should equip your bird feeders with seed or a suet block in winter, but that’s about it. You can sometimes leave fresh water out, but you might want to put it in a cage tray if you have messy visitors, such as pigeons. With proper care and offerings of a well-balanced diet, you’ll get a variety of common garden birds attending for a regular meal.

How long can a budgie go without food?

A budgie in good health can go up to 48 hours without food, but it is not recommended. The best thing is to get the budgie used to being fed on a reliable schedule. In principle, this small parrot can survive for up to 24 hours without food and up to 48 hours without water. Anything more than a few days is asking for trouble.

My bird is really thin! What do I do?

There are several possible causes, but the most likely is that your pet bird isn’t getting enough food. Birds with other health issues, like a cold or an infected mouth or beak, are also thin. Of course, it’s also possible he’s just old and frail, in which case doing nothing is probably best. Also, ensure you’re offering a balanced diet, such as feeding fresh fruits and foods high in fat and protein.

Conclusion

As you see in this article, many birds cannot go for long periods without feeding or drinking water. But other birds survive by eating very little and taking very small sips of water to keep their bodies functioning. In some cases, some only eat once every few days or every few weeks to keep them alive.

The next time you see a bird in the forest or flying above your head, think back to this article and remember that they eat as they go.

Additional Resources

Sources and References

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