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Bird Beaks - Why Are There So Many Different Shapes?
There are many different types of bird beaks or bills, but why? Birds have evolved a great variety of bills or adapted to
their varied food habits. All of them, however, arise in fundamentally the same
Bird beaks are essentially a compact layer of epidermal cells
(horny sheath) molded around the bony core of each mandible, the upper and lower
jaws. In nearly all birds, unlike mammals, both upper and lower jaws can move.
Below are some examples of different kinds of bird beaks and
Beaks of Passerines
Seed Eaters: Grosbeaks, finches - have short, thick
bills that can crush hard seed
Foliage Gleaners: Warblers, orioles, vireos - have
longer, thin bills that can reach farther to pick an insect off a leaf
Ground Probers: Starling - pointed, thin bill that
goes into the ground easily
Flying Insect Eaters: Swallows, flycatchers,
nighthawks - all have flat bills with a broad base, an insect-catching design.
Beaks of Raptors
Raptors such as hawks, falcons and accipiters have
sharply hooked bills for tearing
apart animal flesh.
Wading birds like herons and egrets have long bills
enable them to make sudden, long jabs into the water for fish, frogs,
crayfish, and snakes.
Curlews - use their long, downcurved bills to
reach deep into the water for mollusks and small crabs and to probe in the
mud for worms and insects.
Godwits & Dowitchers - with long, up-turned bills,
are more exclusively probers, whose rapid head jabs in the mud give rise to
comparison with sewing machines.
Brown Pelican - widens its lower mandible to
enclose a fish, which is trapped when the upper mandible shuts.
American Woodcock - uses its long straight bill to get
worms out of the ground. The tip of its upper mandible is flexible, and when
underground can move away from the lower mandible and then close on a worm