Birds, such as great and blue tits, search for food in the morning but only return to eat it in late afternoon, scientists have found.
The team believe the behaviour maximises their chances of avoiding predators during the day without starving to death overnight.
Researchers from the University of Oxford tracked the birds' winter foraging movements using tiny tags.
All five of the studied species of songbirds behaved in the same way.
The results are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
"Our results are important because they provide a new hypothesis for how animals forage," said Damien Farine, lead author from the University of Oxford.
"They suggest that animals integrate the different risks they face into one strategy that can be applied to satisfy both their need to avoid predation and avoid risk."
Scientists have been studying bird populations at Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, UK since 1947.
Finding food becomes more and more relevant towards the end of the winter when large sources of food, such as beech mast, have become depleted.