Why Do Horses Sometimes Eat Birds?

Why Do Horses Sometimes Eat Birds?

Now, I grew up around horses.

My grandpa had a small farm with a few horses, chickens, and even a couple of peacocks roaming around.

As a kid, I just thought the horses ate grass, hay, grains, that kind of stuff.

Never imagined them chomping down on an unsuspecting bird!

That changed one summer day when I was helping Gramps clean the stalls.

I heard a screech and turned to see our old mare Missy with a baby chick dangling from her mouth! I was horrified.

Gramps just chuckled and said “Guess she wanted a little snack.” WHAT?!

That experience stuck with me over the years, so I decided to do some digging on why horses eat birds sometimes.

Turns out, there are a few possible reasons…

Boredom and curiosity seem to be big ones.

Horses cooped up in stalls may see a little bird hopping around and decide to try it out.

They’re smart creatures and like novelty. Chasing down a bird and eating it breaks up the monotony of daily stable life.

It Provides Extra Nutrition

Horses are grazing animals, meaning they are built to munch all day long. In the wild, they may travel upwards of 25 miles a day, grazing on grasses, shrubs, leaves, etc.

This provides them with a diverse diet and range of nutrients. Domestic horses don’t have that luxury. Their feed is restricted and often lacks variety.

Why Do Horses Sometimes Eat Birds?

So if a bird happens to find its way into their space, they may eat it simply to supplement their nutritional needs – extra protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.

For example, a small bird can provide a decent amount of protein and fat for a horse. Birds have a high metabolic rate and need energy-dense calories to keep them in the air.

This fat and protein winds up being stored in their small bodies, making them a concentrated nutrient source.

Just one little chick can contain around 14-15 grams of fat and 19-20 grams of protein – not bad for a tiny snack!

Vitamins and minerals found in birds can also help balance out a horse’s ration. Feathers and bone contribute calcium.

Organ meats are loaded with iron, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins. The muscles supply phosphorus and selenium.

So that seemingly odd behavior of bird eating actually helps supplement some key nutrients horses need.

Now, horses shouldn’t rely on random bird bites for their full nutrition. But as an occasional supplement, it might help fill some gaps in an otherwise monotonous diet.

Just like we humans reach for a snack even when we aren’t truly hungry. For horses with limited grazing, a little extra protein or mineral boost from bird eating can be appealing.

Predatory Instinct Kicks In

Now, horses aren’t hunters by nature like cats.

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But they do have some latent predatory tendencies. Their large size gives them an advantage over small prey animals, almost like an elephant can stomp a mouse without thinking twice.

Why Do Horses Sometimes Eat Birds?

If a tiny bird is fluttering around the feet of a 1,000 lb horse, that predatory instinct may kick in. The horse grabs and eats the bird before really considering what it’s doing.

Same reason horses may play with mice in their hay or grain before eating them.

This instinct is still present in domestic horses despite thousands of years of domestication. Wild horses were opportunistic omnivores, eating small animals when the occasion arose.

They retained this evolutionary tendency. Interestingly, foals exhibit more predatory type behaviors like stalking, chasing, and pouncing – probably as practice for adulthood.

Researchers theorize modern horses opportunistically eat small vertebrates to supplement their diet with protein.

The availability of abundant grains and forage may have decreased their consumption of birds and rodents, but the underlying genes remain.

So given the chance, don’t be surprised if your modern pet horse snacks on the occasional sparrow or mouse, just as his ancestors did ages ago.

They Like the Texture

Texture is an important part of a horse’s eating experience. They like variety. Crunchy birds or mice can provide a pleasing contrast to their typical soft, grain-based diet.

Why Do Horses Sometimes Eat Birds?

It’s like kids munching on pretzels when they get home from school. The crunch and saltiness balances out the rest of their smooth, sweet diet. Horses seem to enjoy the unique texture of birds now and then.

The bones and feathers of birds add a crackly, crunchy mouthfeel compared to hay and grain. This stimulates the senses and makes for a more enriching dining experience.

Chewing through the bones also provides dental stimulation and helps wear the teeth down evenly. The feathers tickle the lips and tongue in an unusual way. Even the skin and tiny muscles provide more chew resistance than plain feed.

Variety truly is the spice of life for horses’ palates. A stable diet of processed grain and hay can get downright boring day after day.

Choosing to eat a bird now and then adds mental and physical enrichment. The novelty factor can make their day a little less monotonous. So texture and mouthfeel play a key role in a horse’s occasional desire for an avian treat.

It’s a Bad Habit

Some horses develop a problematic taste for birds. Maybe they snacked on a chick once and acquired a preference for the unique flavor. Now the owner has an issue whenever birds enter the horse area.

This can become a dangerous habit, especially if they start getting aggressive and attacking larger birds. It’s best to try to break the habit early before someone gets hurt.

Bird eating can cross the line into an unhealthy vice when horses become obsessive and start actively hunting them down.

Some behavioral issues stem from boredom and under-stimulation. A horse with a bird fixation may spend hours staring at the sky, just waiting to grab any bird that lands nearby. They begin neglecting healthy activities like grazing and socializing.

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In severe cases, horses can even turn aggressive toward humans if they suspect we are keeping birds from them.

A simple snack has become an unhealthy obsession. They may bite or kick when birds are around. Some horses have learned to unzip tents and backpacks looking for feathered creatures. This dangerous behavior needs correcting right away before it causes harm.

The key is addressing the root cause, like lack of adequate pasture time or appropriate feeding. Providing mental stimulation through toys and training can also curb an obsessive habit.

And of course, keeping birds away from the horse’s enclosure is a must for their own safety. With patience and care, even a serious bird habit can be broken over time.

Horse Behavior

Horses might also eat birds or other small animals if they’re experiencing boredom or frustration.

If a horse is kept in a small area or is not given enough stimulation, it might start to exhibit strange or destructive behaviors, such as eating things that it shouldn’t.

In these cases, it’s important to provide the horse with plenty of mental and physical exercise to prevent boredom and to keep it healthy and happy.

Horse Training & Riding

In some cases, horses might eat birds or other small animals if they’re being trained or ridden in a way that encourages this behavior.

Why Do Horses Sometimes Eat Birds?

For example, if a horse is being trained to catch and retrieve objects, it might try to catch and eat a bird if it’s nearby.

However, it’s important to note that this is not a normal or healthy behavior, and it’s not something that should be encouraged or rewarded.

When to Worry

Generally speaking, an occasional bird snack isn’t a big concern for horses. BUT – if it becomes excessive or you notice other symptoms like lethargy, irritability, or loss of appetite, it could signal an underlying health issue.

Nutritional deficiencies, stomach ulcers, pain, or boredom can sometimes cause odd cravings and behaviors in horses. So if your horse suddenly starts eating a ton of birds, have your vet take a look just to be safe.

For example, a zinc deficiency may cause a horse to crave bird feathers and small bones. Birds are high in bioavailable zinc thanks to their high protein diets. So increased bird eating may indicate your horse is lacking this essential mineral.

Intestinal ulcers can also spark strange appetites. The acidity causes pain and discomfort, even nausea. Your horse may pick at birds hoping for some relief without knowing why. Treating the gut health issue will likely resolve the odd craving.

If a previously calm horse seems irritable and starts aggressively attacking birds, pain may be the culprit. Similar to a cranky human who needs a snack, horses in discomfort may lash out at small animals around them. Identifying and alleviating the source of pain is the best remedy.

And we can’t underestimate plain old boredom.

Horses with insufficient grazing time or mental stimulation may eat birds simply to pass the time and entertain themselves. Providing a more enriching environment usually puts a stop to boredom-induced bird feasting.

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So consider bird eating a potential symptom of an underlying issue. Work with your vet and equine behaviorist to get to the root cause if your horse suddenly starts gobbling up geese!

There you have it, friends – the inside scoop on why horses sometimes turn into temporary bird eaters. I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the quirky appetites of our equine pals. Let me know if you have any other horse questions! Until next time.


Is it normal for horses to eat birds?

Eating birds is not a normal or healthy behavior for horses, and it’s not something that they should be encouraged to do.

Horses are herbivores, and they should be fed a diet that is high in fiber and nutrients.

However, horses are also opportunistic eaters, and they might eat birds or other small animals if they’re hungry and there’s nothing else available to eat.

In general, it’s not normal for horses to eat birds, and it’s not something that is recommended.

Can eating birds be harmful to a horse?

Eating birds or other small animals can be harmful to a horse, as these things are not part of a horse’s natural diet and they can cause digestive problems.

In addition, eating birds or other small animals can lead to other health issues, such as dental problems or injuries from catching and eating the animal.

It’s important to make sure that horses have a healthy, balanced diet and that they are not encouraged to eat things that they shouldn’t.

What should I do if my horse eats a bird?

If your horse eats a bird or any other small animal, it’s important to monitor its behavior and to watch for any signs of distress or illness.

If you notice any changes in your horse’s behavior or if it seems to be in pain, it’s a good idea to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.

In addition, it’s important to make sure that your horse has a healthy, balanced diet and that it is not left alone or unsupervised in areas where it might have access to small animals.

The End (Or Is It?)

So there you have it, folks. Horses might eat birds or other small animals for a variety of reasons, including hunger, boredom, or training.

However, it’s important to note that this is not a normal or healthy behavior for horses, and it’s not something that should be encouraged.

If you notice your horse eating birds or other small animals, it’s a good idea to monitor its behavior and to consult a veterinarian if necessary.

And as always, make sure to provide your horse with a healthy, balanced diet and plenty of mental and physical exercise to keep it happy and healthy.

Bye for now!


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