The Most Common Birds That Eat Dead Animals

Himalayan griffin vulture
© iStock.com/artush

Written by Niccoy Walker

Published: December 16, 2022

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Most birds you see from your windowsill feed on tiny seeds, berries, and insects. But not all can be as cute and dainty as a chickadee. Some species are experts at ridding the earth of decaying flesh. It’s a messy job, but somebody has to do it. These animals play a vital role in the cycle of life by “cleaning up” unwanted bacteria and diseases. Meet the most common birds that eat dead animals.

Vultures

Lappet-faced Vulture walking over water in the Etosha National Park in Namibia. The bird has a black or dark brown back, white feathers on the thighs and a white or buff-brown belly partially covered by long black feathers that hang from the neck.

These carnivorous scavengers feed primarily on freshly killed animals.

©Henk Bogaard/Shutterstock.com

Vultures are familiar carrion-eating birds well-known for their almost exclusive dead animal diet. These carnivorous scavengers feed primarily on freshly killed animals, but some species have a broader food range. Condors, for example, may eat helpless living animals like newborn calves. And other vulture species occasionally eat small animals, garbage, and feces. These birds feed in large groups and are often seen circling high in the sky over carcasses. They may eat with other carrion-feeding species. Interesting, vultures’ bald heads make it easier for them to keep clean while feeding.

Buzzards

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo, single bird on post eating Red-legged partridge, Warwickshire

These birds are opportunistic carnivores, meaning they take advantage of abundant food sources in their environment.

©Erni/Shutterstock.com

While the typical buzzard diet includes small rodents and reptiles, buzzards are also known for consuming carrion. These birds are opportunistic carnivores, meaning they take advantage of abundant food sources in their environment. If that happens to be dead animals, so be it. Some may even resort to eating earthworms if there is a lack of food. But chances are, if there is roadkill nearby, the buzzard is there. These animals get a bad rap for being dirty scavengers, but like other carrion-eaters, they are essential to the environment.

Kites

A Mississippi Kite on a post as it searches for food.

Kites will eat just about anything they can easily get into their mouths!

©iStock.com/garytog

The kite is another opportunist. They are weak hunters when compared to other large birds. They use their long, light wings to their advantage, soaring through the air as they look for an easy meal. Their main food source comes from dead animals, but they may also eat small living prey like mice, rabbits, and pigeons. In conclusion, they will eat just about anything they can easily get into their mouths! This seems to be a theme among carrion-eating birds.

Ravens

ravens perched together

These birds eat anything from nestlings to bird eggs, garbage, and animal carcasses.

©Krasula/Shutterstock.com

Ravens may be much smaller than vultures, but these omnivores will eat pretty much anything, including carrion. Their typical diet consists of insects, arthropods, reptiles, frogs, and plant matter. But these birds eat anything from nestlings to bird eggs, garbage, and animal carcasses. Ravens are intelligent and cunning, occasionally distracting other birds so they can steal their meal. These playful and clever birds frequently gather at landfills to eat rubbish.

Eagles

bald eagle perched on column

Eagles eat over 400 animal species!

©iStock.com/emranashraf

Unlike other big birds we’ve covered, eagles do not exclusively eat dead animals. Their primary food sources are fish and other birds. In fact, they eat over 400 animal species! Unlike the kites, eagles are fierce and skilled hunters who have no trouble catching small and large prey. Some, like golden eagles, have even taken down big horn sheep and coyotes. However, these birds never miss a chance for a good meal, whether alive or dead.

Skuas

Skua South polar in Antarctica

Skuas will bully and chase other birds around until they begrudgingly disgorge their meal.

©Sergey 402/Shutterstock.com

Skuas are predatory seabirds found in the Arctic. The skua will eat any and everything it can get its grubby bill on, including food currently down the esophagus of another bird. Skuas will bully and chase other birds around until they begrudgingly disgorge their meal. They also eat penguin’s eggs, fish, squid, mollusks, and carrion. Interestingly they even follow ships at sea and eat garbage thrown overboard.

Hawks

red-tailed hawk

Active and skilled hunters, hawks readily dive for prey and grasp them with their sharp talons.

©Richard G Smith/Shutterstock.com

Hawks typically eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates. Similar to eagles, hawks are active and skilled hunters that readily dive for prey and grasp them with their sharp talons. But to survive during the harsh winter months when food is scarce, these birds scavenge for dead animals. It may not be a favorite dish, but hawks don’t hesitate when the opportunity for a fresh carcass presents itself. 

Jays

Like most common birds that eat dead animals, jays are not fussy eaters.

©Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock.com

Jays are not the typical bird you would suspect of eating dead animals, but these birds consume carrion occasionally. Their primary diet includes insects, spiders, snails, small rodents, frogs, nestlings, and birds’ eggs. But if it stumbles upon some roadkill or an animal killed by a carnivore, the jay takes advantage and seizes the opportunity to fill its belly. Like most common birds that eat dead animals, they are not fussy eaters.

Other birds that eat carrion include northern harriers, owls, roadrunners, crows, and gulls.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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