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Animals Compete for Food

by Ron Kurtus (15 June 2007)

In their search for food, animals are in competition with others in their own species, as well of those in other species. This is especially an issue if food is in short supply.

Typically, animals find food on the basis of their own performance, plus some luck. In some cases, they battle head-on-head for possession of the some food.

There are also cases where animals will take food that belongs to another or even eat the other animal as food.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Performance competition

Given a limited supply of food and water, the animals that are the most industrious, clever and capable will succeed in finding things to eat and water to drink. The winners will be the animals that perform the best.

Birds may go to the bird feeder until all the seeds are gone. The birds that come late will get nothing.

Head-to-head competition

Animals may fight each other for the same piece of food. In this head-to-head competition, each may be on the offense and defense during the struggle.

Dogs of approximately equal size and status may fight over a piece of meat. They might even have a tug-of-war to see which one gets the food.

Monkeys may compete over a piece of fruit. One monkey will have the fruit and defend itself, while the other monkey tries to steal it away. This back-and-forth battle will go on until one succeeds and runs away with the prize.

Animals of different species sometimes also compete for the same food.

Predatory competition

Predatory competition can be within a species or between different species. Sometimes one takes food from another. In other cases, one animal species is the food of another species.

Within species

Larger and stronger animals within a species will forcefully take food from the smaller members. Although the smaller or lower status animal may fight back to protect its food, the superior animal usually wins the competition.

After a kill, the alpha wolves chase off the lower-status wolves to get the meal. Then the other members of the den get the scraps.

Steal across species

Some animals compete in a predatory manner by stealing or taking food from another species.

A blue jay may swoop down on a squirrel carrying an acorn, trying to make it drop the nut so the jay can take it. If that strategy does not work, the blue jay may wait until the squirrel buries the nut and then dig it up for its own meal.

The blue jay acts like a bully. Although the squirrel tries to defend its food, it never is a threat to the jay.

Eat other animal

There are predatory animals that eat other animals for food. This is a competition in which the predator is seeking the reward of a meal, while the victim of the attack or the prey is fighting to save its life.

Sometimes the predator wins the competition and eats its prey. Other times, the prey will escape and be the winner. In some occasions, the prey will counter-attack and either chase off the predatory or even kill it.

A lion will attack a small elephant and kill it, or the elephant may be able to escape the attack. Sometimes the lion can pick the wrong elephant that will counter-attack and kill or injure the lion.


Animals compete for food with others in their own species, as well of those in other species. In many cases, animals find food on the basis of their own performance. In some situations, they battle head-on-head for possession of the food. There are also predators that will take food that belongs to another or even eat the other animal as food.

Everyone competes

Resources and references

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