Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Peek at Beaks

The beak of a bird has a variety of purposes. Feeding is the most important function of the bill and it is shaped according to what a bird eats. This external structure is also used for killing prey, courtship behavior, grooming, fighting, feeding young, manipulating objects and many other actions. The size, shape and color of bird beaks vary greatly and can tell us much about their habitat and lifestyle.

Roseate Spoonbill
What is most distinctive about a Roseate Spoonbill is its long spatulate bill. These pink blushed birds lower their partially open spoon-like beaks into shallow waters and sweep it back and forth. Once small fish and crustaceans are detected, the bird clamps down on its prey.

Great Blue Heron
Herons have long, thick bills adapted for foraging. They stab their spear-like beaks at fish, frogs and shellfish. Once the prey is captured, the heron lifts the creature out of the water and swallows.

Brown Creeper
These diminutive birds use their thin, downward curved bills to probe for insects and spiders found in and under tree bark.

Yellow Warbler
Most warblers have slender, pointed beaks. They use their thin bills to glean insects off of leaves, bark and twigs.

Great-crested Flycatcher
Tyrant Flycatchers snatch insects while in flight. Their beaks are flat and wide at the base. Flycatchers have spring-like ligaments that help snap their jaws shut when an insect is captured.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds have long, fine, tubular bills which they use to probe into flowers. These tiny birds lap up the nectar with their tongues. They also rely on insects for sustenance. When feeding on bugs, they will often snare the insect at the base of its widened beak rather than the tip. This allows for an easier, shorter path to the throat.

Cinnamon Teal
The edges of many ducks bills are flat and fringed so they can strain seeds, plants and aquatic insects from the water. The edges can also be soft, filled with touch receptors to aid in locating food.

White Ibis
 Ibises seek food by wading slowly in shallow water, sweeping their heads from side to side and probing the bottom soil with their curved bills. These stunning birds forage in mud and on grass as well, finding food by touch, sight and rooting. Their diet consists of crustaceans, fish, frogs, insects and various water creatures.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Woodpeckers have strong, chisel-like bills which taper to the tip. They use their beaks like a drill to excavate holes into trees for food or bore cavities for nests.

Birds of prey have sharp, hooked beaks used to hold and tear into the flesh of prey. They rip the food into pieces small enough to swallow. 

House Finches
Finches, Northern Cardinals and grosbeaks have short, stout, conical beaks used for cracking seeds.

Black Skimmers
Black Skimmers have a most unusual beak. It's lower mandible is quite larger then its upper jaw. This assists the bird in its manner of feeding. When searching for prey, skimmers fly inches above the water slicing their lower bills just below the surface. When a fish is located, the skimmer scoops the fish up, tilts its head and ingests the fish while flying.

Posted by Julie Gidwitz


  1. A terrific, informative post Julie! Great images too.

  2. Beautiful photos Julie, the best one there is an Osprey, no, there are isn't favourites.

  3. Magnificent Julie. It's fun to read you speak of beaks.

  4. Beautiful photographs, such views are giving much joy. I am greeting

  5. Fantasticas capturas,enhorabuena por ello.Saludos

  6. Excellent post Julie! What a great combination of beautiful photos and interesting information!

  7. I love ypur pictures !!!
    See you soon Julie

  8. Aloha Julie! Another wonderful, gorgeous post! The birds that are found in Florida are making me homesick! I'll be in N Calif for a week before flying on to my new home in Florida and hope to visit a good spot for shore birds while there, then I get to seek out birding spots in NE Florida for the 1st time, can't wait. :o) I esp want to see those skimmers!
    Again, thank you for sharing such fabulous shots and the beak info!

  9. Amazing photos as usual Julie, truly splendid post.

  10. Once again, you have demonstrated your wonderful eye and excellent photography. Thanks KID!

  11. Great post Julie. A topic that we should spend more time on. Beaks are an important part of identifying birds. In this age of "pledge to fledge" we need to teach others about more easily identifying birds.

  12. Julie, that is a great post and a very nice theme! I'm a big fan of your bird photography.

  13. Julie, a great post and I like the theme! Awesome photos!