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Why You See Birds On Dirt Roads

1-5-17 goldfinches in road 049A1683There are two parts to a bird’s stomach, each of which has a different function. The proventriculus, or glandular stomach, secretes enzymes that begin the digestive process. Lacking teeth, birds also have a gizzard, or muscular stomach, that grinds up the food that a bird has eaten. For this reason, the gizzard is usually very strong and muscular. Seed-eating birds often eat seeds whole and need to break them into tiny pieces in order to digest them. Many of these birds can be seen on dirt roads, picking up small stones and grit which then collects in their gizzards and helps pulverize the food they’ve eaten.  (Photo:  American Goldfinches)

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14 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    We had a Goldfinch here, this morning. Instintively the birds know not to eat too large a stone…because it would clog their little intestines?

    January 8, 2018 at 8:26 am

  2. Thanks, Mary. Juncos have been feasting on our gravel driveway and now I know why! It has been a mystery til now. Elizabeth Terp

    January 8, 2018 at 8:37 am

  3. Phil Fitzpatrick the late summer we see flickers along the roadside eating ants, Hope you are staying warm and well. Phil

    January 8, 2018 at 8:41 am

  4. I hope birds know better than to ingest salt on the roads. what happens to them if they do?

    January 8, 2018 at 8:59 am

    • Susan Fraser

      I was wondering about the salt, too, after having observed birds looking for grit along a main road that was routinely salted, not sanded. There was a lot of snow cover and it was snowing lightly.

      January 8, 2018 at 11:26 am

    • I wonder if any research has been done on birds and road salt…will have to look for it!

      January 8, 2018 at 4:49 pm

  5. Marnie

    I drove down our dirt and snow covered road close to dawn a few times this last cold week, and wondered if the juncos could have been there all night: only because they so owned the road, were casual about moving. Or maybe they too were cold and just waking up?

    January 8, 2018 at 9:04 am

  6. Cheron barton


    Bet u knew that already!!

    Sent from my iPhone


    January 8, 2018 at 9:47 am

  7. I was wondering if birds swallow things whole, can I assume they don’t have taste buds? It’s a bit confusing (if that is true) because I think birds prefer certain food.

    January 8, 2018 at 10:07 am

    • Here’s what has to say about it: “Taste varies, too, but in general, taste is less well-developed in birds than it is in humans. A parrot has 300 to 400 taste buds, while humans have 9,000. Most birds can perceive sweet, sour, and bitter tastes. A bird that lives on nectar and fruit will prefer sweet tastes, but sweets don’t appeal to grain-eaters.”

      January 8, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      • Thank you for the info on this. Very interesting. Glad to also know about Projectbeck.

        January 9, 2018 at 9:49 am

  8. Rosalea

    They seem to be constantly pecking up gravel. Does it get excreted over time? There must be a limit to how much gravel their gizzard holds!? Just curious?

    January 8, 2018 at 11:29 am

    • I have heard that the grit and stones are periodically regurgitated or passed in the feces, possibly to prevent their becoming smooth and, consequently, less effective.

      January 8, 2018 at 4:54 pm

  9. Char Delabar

    Thanks, Mary. Yes, I’ve wondered and never gotten around to searching for the answer. I’m wondering also, why the juncos seem to do so much pecking in the snow. I have a shallow bird bath and cannot recall them drinking from it like the starlings, doves, and blue jays. Char


    January 8, 2018 at 9:51 pm

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