Discover the many ways that Birds use their Beaks!
Birds are a class of vertebrates with more than 18000 different species. Of the various features that are common to all birds, perhaps the most characteristic is their beak. All birds have one beak. But it has evolved differently in each species to improve its functions in response to its environment. These functions include feeding themselves and their young, defending themselves, grooming their feathers, mating, regulating their body temperature or building nests.
But what exactly is a beak?
In biological terms, it is a type of mouth in which the jaws have no teeth and are covered by a horny layer of a protein called keratin (like the nails or horn of a rhinoceros).
What are the different types of beaks?
Generally, bird beaks are categorized according to their shape and function. There are several different kind of bird beaks:
1. Hooked beaks: Owls, eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey that use their beaks to rip open flesh. They are usually meat eaters.
2. Cone shaped beaks: Goldfinches, sparrows and canaries are all good examples. They have a short, robust beak that ends in a conical shape, allowing them to break open seeds.
3. Short, curved beaks: Parrots and macaws have short curved beaks for splitting open hard fruits and nuts.
4. Straight, thin beaks: Bee eaters and Robins specialize in catching and eating insects with their straight and thin beaks. Woodpeckers also have strong thin beaks to peck through wood to find bugs.
5. Long, thin, needle-like beaks: Nectar feeders such as Hummingbirds swoop their beaks into flowers to find their food.
6. Wide, flat beaks: Filter feeders such as Flamingoes, swans and ducks have a filtering system in their beaks to pick out the dirt from the ponds and riverbeds.
7. Spatulate beaks: Wading birds such as spoonbills have large long beaks that help them pick up mollusks and small animals from the bottoms of ponds and marshes.
8. Large, long, and strong beaks: Fish eating birds such as pelicans, albatrosses and seagulls have long, curved beaks to catch fish and then prevent them from escaping. The pouch on a pelican’s beak helps it take huge gulps of water to store the fish in it. Herons and Cranes have long, strong beaks to catch fish.
9. Crossbill beaks: The Red Crossbill’s crossed bill tips may look odd, but it is in fact a clever adaptation to getting seeds out of closed pine cones.
10. Multifunctional beaks: A Toco Toucan’s beak is not just for show, this multi-purpose appendage can be used to collect and skin fruit, frighten predators, attract mates, and defend territory. Recent research has also shown that it also helps to keep the bird cool in the heat of the tropical day.
Learn more about birds and their beaks by participating in our HTHT @ Home Science Experiment:
Also check out this interesting resource, provided by Mystery Science, on nests and why birds lay eggs in the spring!