Blackbird with a beakful of mealworms, perched on a washing line in garden

Food chains

All living creatures consume something to get energy to live and grow.

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. 

Food connections 

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.