Birds have a diverse diet, with some feeding primarily on fruits and seeds, some that eat small vertebrates like fish and small mammals, and some that hunt insects. But, as the saying “the early bird gets the worm” would suggest, there are also birds that eat earthworms. Earthworms are a plentiful resource and offer good nutrition, but they usually take more effort to get than just plucking a berry off a tree. In this article, we look at 12 birds that possess a set of skills and adaptations that allow them to seek out and capture earthworms.
12 Birds That Eat Earthworms
1. American robin
Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius
If you ask someone to name a bird that eats earthworms, most people would answer the robin. The American robin is an iconic bird in the U.S. heavily associated with blue eggs, springtime and earthworms. This is likely because they are so comfortable on suburban laws, we have all seen them worm-hunting!
Robins are often spotted hopping across lawns, gardens, and wooded areas, where they search for earthworms. If you watch them, you’ll likely see them both looking at the ground and cocking their heads to the side as if to listen. Researchers believe robins find worms both by using visual cues and by hearing them underground. Once located, robins can use their beak to break into the soil and pull them out.
2. Wild Turkeys
Scientific Name: Meleagris gallopavo
Turkeys are known for their distinct tail feathers and their popularity as Thanksgiving’s official main course. Turkeys, however, are not known to be picky and will eat just about anything- including earthworms! For these well known birds, earthworms provide an excellent source of protein. Turkeys capitalize on newly turned over earth to peck at and search for earthworms.
They also use their large feet with sharp claws to scratch at the ground looking for acorns, nuts, seeds, beetles and other insects. Even plant matter, snails and salamander’s are on the menu. These expert foragers know how to eat what they can find, and change their diet to match what is available in each season.
3. American woodcock
Scientific Name: Scolopax minor
The American woodcock is a specialized worm hunter with a unique, long bill designed for probing the ground. These birds are often found in damp woodlands, marshes, and meadows. Woodcocks probe the soil with their beaks, and their flexible upper bill can easily catch and pull worms from the ground.
These birds are also known for their silly “dance”, where they rock back and forth on one foot at a time. This motion may disturb worms just under the surface, notifying the woodcock of their presence.
4. European starling
Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris
European starlings, native to Europe but now found in the United States, are highly adaptable birds known for their iridescent plumage and synchronized flight patterns. While about half a starlings typical diet is insects, they also eat all sorts of things from snails, seeds, grains fruits and even pick through your trash.
After rainfall softens the soil, starlings eagerly seek out earthworms. They forage in lawns, fields, and gardens, often in large flocks, making the most of the earthworm abundance. You may see them poke their beak into the ground and open their mouth to spread out the dirt, then hunt for whatever worms, grubs or bugs they have exposed.
5. Northern flicker
Scientific Name: Colaptes auratus
Northern flickers are medium sized woodpeckers known for their distinctive plumage, a mix of spots, stripes and colors. Like most woodpeckers they can drill into trees to find insects. However the flicker also likes to find insects on the ground. You may spot them walking around your lawn, searching for bugs by either digging through leaf litter or pecking into the ground.
Ants are a favorite of the flicker, and they can scoop up several at a time with their long sticky tongue. But they don’t stop at ants and will pretty much eat any prey they can find while digging around, including earthworms.
6. Brown thrasher
Scientific Name: Toxostoma rufum
Brown thrashers are medium-sized, secretive birds that have warm reddish-brown plumage and long, curved bills. They are common year-round in the southeast, and many also migrate north for the breeding season. Thrashers do a lot of their foraging for food on the ground by digging in the soil and looking under dead leaves.
They are excellent earthworm hunters, using their long bills to probe the soil and leaf litter for hidden worms. Brown thrashers prefer to be at least partially hidden in brambles and ground cover, but you will sometimes spot them in the open on lawns.
7. Eastern screech owl
Scientific Name: Megascops asio
When you think of what an owl eats, small mammals like mice or rabbits probably come to mind. The Eastern screech owl does include many small mammals in it’s diet. However because of its small size it can also take a variety of smaller prey such as earthworms, frogs, lizards, insects and crayfish. Whether chasing after something fast-moving or foraging for worms, these tiny and agile owls have quite a varied diet! They may even store excess food in tree holes for a later date.
Scientific Name: Charadrius vociferus
Killdeers are plover-like birds often found near water bodies and open fields, distributed throughout most of North America. They are known for their distinctively shrill “kill-deer” call, large red eyes, and black double neck bands.
These birds probe the mud along shorelines and fields to capture earthworms and other invertebrates. Their foraging habits are not limited to worms, but they are opportunistic hunters that won’t pass up the chance to scarf down an earthworm.
Scientific Name: Porzana carolina
This may be the first time you are reading about Soras, as they are considered to be very secretive marsh birds, found in the western United States and into Canada. They have distinctive whinnying calls and an elusive nature. Their brown and gray plumage helps them blend in among reeds and cattails, but you may get a peak at their bright yellow bill.
While their diet primarily consists of aquatic invertebrates, soras are known to feed on earthworms when they venture into upland areas. Their long bills allow them to probe the soil for hidden prey.
Scientific Name: Gallus gallus domesticus
There is no doubt that you are likely familiar with this domestic bird. Popular as livestock in rural and sometimes suburban America, chickens are thought to eat just about anything.
While most chickens are fed grains and corn, they also will look to supplement their diet elsewhere. Chickens are known to devour earthworms that they’ve plucked from the ground, and they serve as a healthy protein source for them.
11. White-faced Ibis
Scientific name: Plegadis chihi
This colorful and iridescent ibis can be found in wetlands, marshes, and large areas of muddy soil (think wet farm fields) in the western U.S. and along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to the Florida panhandle. Their long legs allow them to wade in shallow water, where they can use their lengthy curved bills to probe through the mud and sediment. Earthworms make up a large portion of their diet, along with crayfish, insects, snails and clams.
12. American Crow
Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
Nearly everyone knows the American crow, a populous large black bird found across the United States. Aside from traveling in flocks and being noisy, crows are also known for the diversity of food they will consume. They’ll eat nearly anything they can find, which may sometimes include pet food you leave outside or trash you haven’t enclosed.
When it comes to food in the wild they will eat grains, berries, fruits, nuts, mice, fish, clams, bird eggs…the list goes on. Insects and earthworms also make the list, which they can scoop up from wet soil, find hiding beneath leaves or even dig in the ground for.