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Food chains

Blue tit on broken plant pot

Image: Ray Kennedy

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.

Who's feeding whom?

There’s no point in putting out birdseed for sparrowhawks, right? Well, maybe only half right. Of course, birdseed is just for small birds such as blue tits. But sparrowhawks have to eat too. And their favourite food is – you’ve guessed it! – small birds such as blue tits. So, who knows? By feeding a blue tit, you may be helping to feed a sparrowhawk.

Food connections

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. It looks like this:
Food chain

Image: The RSPB

Taking steps

Every living thing, or organism, forms part of a food chain. This includes you (so try to stay clear of big, meat-eating predators!). 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. 

So, we can also show our food chain like this:

Food chain

Image: The RSPB

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.