(verb) To seek food. Foraging is one of birds' major activities, and most birds spend the majority of their time foraging either to feed themselves or to care for a brooding mate or young hatchlings. Just before migration, birds may forage more heavily to build up energy reserves, and they may do the same before a winter storm.
How birds forage depends on the species. Examples of foraging behavior include flycatchers hawking for insects, hummingbirds sipping at nectar flowers, towhees scratching in leaf litter for insects and seeds, ducks dabbling for aquatic plants, wading birds spearing fish and raptors soaring in search of prey. Many birds have specialized bill sizes and shapes to assist their foraging, such as the nail on a duck's bill that helps the bird root for aquatic vegetation. Similarly, roseate spoonbills have a highly specialized spatulate bill to skim the water for insects, small fish and other prey, and hummingbirds' long, thin bills help them probe deeply into flowers to access nectar. Examining a bird's bill can often be an identification clue to help determine what the bird eats.
In addition to their bills, many birds have other adaptations to help them forage. Vultures, for example, have an excellent sense of smell to help them detect carrion, and owls have contoured facial discs that focus the sound of their prey help them hunt.
Photo – Marbled Godwits Foraging © Chris Willis