But where and how does the process start? And how does energy get passed from food to feeder? - Through a food chain.
How food chains work
What and how birds and other animals eat is all connected. For example, to survive and grow, sparrowhawks eat small birds. In turn, many small birds eat seeds. Seeds come from plants, such as sunflowers, which make their own food using sunlight. So, in a way, the sunflower, the blue tit and the sparrowhawk are all connected to each other by food. They form a kind of chain, which starts with the sun. This is called a food chain.
Every living thing, or organism, forms part of a food chain. Each food chain starts with energy from the sun – called solar energy. Then the next step is always a plant. Plants produce food from the sun’s energy, so they are called producers. All the steps after that are animals. Animals consume food by eating plants or other animals, so they are called consumers.
We can show a food chain like this:
Some food chains are longer. Others are quite short. But the steps always follow the same order. These steps are called trophic (or feeding) levels.
All organisms – including birds – live in communities of living things, called ecosystems. An ecosystem consists of all the plants and animals that live in a particular habitat. The habitat is also made up of non-living parts, such as soil, sunlight, water and air. The living things all depend upon each other for food. Food chains link them together.
There are many different habitats in the UK. Different animals and plants have adapted to live in each one, forming their own ecosystems. Birds are part of this and food chains link them to the other animals and plants that live in that ecosystem.
In this section
Every food chain starts with sunshine and a green plant. Without plants, birds and wildlife would have nothing to eat.
Finding and catching food
No animal can live without food. Food contains the building blocks of life.
Not everything in a food chain gets eaten. Many plants and animals die long before they become anyone else’s lunch.
Web of life
A food chain shows you on paper who eats what in an ecosystem. But in real life it’s not so simple.
Pyramids of numbers
As you pass along a food chain, the number of individual animals decreases at each trophic level.
Top of the chain
Predators at the top of the food chain tend to be the biggest animals in it. These are sometimes called apex predators.
Looking for food chains
Food chains are everywhere. Look out around your home or school to find out who’s eating what.
How are we doing?
We've been making changes and we'd love to know what you think.