How do birds find worms?

There are five senses common to a bird, which stand as the basis to answer the question how do birds find worms. As the saying goes that different strokes for different folks, birds like robins, have abilities to find their food.

While some like the kiwi have nostrils at the tip of their bill that enables them to smell worms from a distance, the sandpiper possesses highly sensitive bill tips that respond to the slightest of worm vibration the soil.


Undoubtedly, you will notice the varying style of worm hunting for every species; there is yet something connecting these birds despite their differences. As mentioned earlier, birds find their food with the help of their senses. Just like a blind man will have to master his ears and hands, these cues aid the birds in identifying a worm from other critters.

How do birds find worms?

There are thousands of species out there, and it is impossible to mention every one of them concerning how they find worms, but we will look into the various senses used in locating worms. Follow us closely as we look into how birds find worms and other food substances.

How birds use their senses to find worms?


Let’s take time to examine what appears to be a mystery but is a reality. Birds are a special kind of creature and one of the most sensitive. They can recognize the taste of soil rich in worm just by pecking the ground with their beak a few times.

You may start to wonder what a bird is seeking to take out from the ground, but then you are taken aback when you see it pluck out its prey gloriously from the ground. In the aspect of taste, you won’t find robins to be responsive.


If you have seen robins tilt their head from side to side just before plunging their bill to the ground to pull out a worm and you wonder how sharp that sight is that it could pick precise movements of a worm, you will appreciate the good ability of a bird to sight preys from the soil.

In the mid-1960s, Dr. Frank Heppner carried out a test with a robin. He performed controlled experiments to figure out how possible it is for a robin to find its food. These experiments were conducted in stages to best test all five sense cues.

In the year 1965, Dr. Heppner realized that robins found it easier to make a good visual on worms, so he made a report on the outcome of his experiment, which could reference other experiments. At that time, they concluded that robins found worms for food, especially by their ability to see what other birds will pass by. Every bird you see, staring sternly at the ground, is likely to have found delicious earthworms.


After Dr. Heppner’s tests were used to know the sensory cues of robins and to determine which is dominantly used to locate earthworms, young biologists Dr. Robert and Dr. Patrick decided to share insight with already found knowledge on robins.

Further experiments were conducted by these biologists to investigate the thesis of Dr. Heppner. They found out that robins use a combination of sensory cues in finding worms, which means that while the robins have a good look at the worms on the ground, they are also making use of the hearing cue to search for worms hiding underneath the soil.

Even if it is easy to hear and search for worms, robins still need to complement this with a visual aid to know the worms’ actual position. You can imagine trying to kill a mosquito because you hear it fly just past your shoulder. Oh yes, you still need to turn on the light to kill the annoying insect.


The sense of smell is not common with the robin and other birds in helping them search for worms, probably because it is meant for animals of higher class. For instance, the hammerhead shark would pick up the smell of blood in the water from a far distance. This shows how important smell is to birds as much as hearing is.


Vibration is another cue that is not much of an exclusive ability for a bird to find worms because it is believed that even a robin should be able to pick up worm vibrations from the ground.


Some do eat worms alive, while others don’t.

Yes. Birds with exclusive olfactory and auditory abilities can find worms by smelling and hearing.

They could make use of any of the five senses to find worms, while some utilize multiple sense cues.


The different species of birds exhibit a special way of locating worms like the robins have a good visual on worms. Auditory cues are not enough to search for worms as birds like the robins will actually need to combine what they hear with what they see (sight is crucial) to do away with the white noise of other environments.

A bird’s unique way of searching for worms could be owing to its unique body structure, just like the hammerhead shark is structured to smell uniquely underwater. You would want to recall the illustration of the kiwi with nostrils at the tip of its bill, which makes it adapt to the use of smell in finding its prey.

Birds use their eyes to find their prey, and in the case of the robins, they make use of what is known as monocular vision. That is, the robin will tilt its head to the side while focusing on the worms in the soil. This is possible because the robins, unlike other birds, have their eyes on the side of their head, which implies that they cannot see their prey by looking straight (stereo vision is absent); they have to do some turning to locate earthworms.

Author Profile

Gabriel Tackett
Double major in Engineering and Geology at the University of Minnesota. Experienced shooter & hunter for over 15 years. Certified NRA officer for over 10 years working as a writer at .

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