Bird Beaks Help With Natural Food Choices

Resplendent Quetzal | Ondrej Prosicky

When you have time to watch the different birds in your area, think about how different the beaks are from bird to bird. From a hawk or an eagle, to a robin or a wren, the sizes and shapes of the beaks are so varied. What about the beaks of the humming birds or the woodpecker? Each bill has a reason for being the shape it is in order to best serve the bird to which it belongs.

Long Narrow Beaks

Orioles | Brian A Wolf

Let’s look at the nectar feeders first. The hummingbird, orioles, warblers, woodpeckers and many others have long narrow beaks so they are able to access nectar from flowering plants. They also eat other insects, because the nectar alone would not be enough sustenance for the bird. Because nectar is their driving food preference however, these birds tend to live in areas, and migrate to areas where flowering plants are plentiful.

Hook Beaks

Red-tailed Hawk | Phoo Chan

Hawks, Eagles, Owls, and other birds of prey, have a hook like beak used for catching and then ripping their dinner apart. This is so they and their young are able to eat. For defense, many smaller animals have a tough outer hide. Because of the hook-like shape, these beaks are able to break through a tough hide after a catch is made, making it easier for the birds to eat the meat inside.

Cracking Style Beaks

Sparrows | Natalia Bachkova

There are many birds that are able to crack open nuts and eat those as one of the sources for their food. Sparrows, finches, cardinals, blue jays, grosbeaks, parrots, and juncos are examples of birds with nut cracking-style beaks. Of course, we all know a blue jay will eat any time, any where, and just about anything!

Conical Beaks

Gouldian Finch | Gerckens-Photo

Conical beaks are common for birds who eat seeds. Birds such as finches, the tufted titmouse, the northern cardinal, and many more will use their beaks to break apart seeds in order to eat. The shape of their beaks allows for flexibility and strength so they are able to pull seeds down, break them apart, and dig in for the good stuff inside. Many of our backyard birds do live on a seed based diet. Seeds most people use to fill bird feeders are geared for conical beaked birds.

This year I let an invasive Clematis vine grow along my garden fence. I thought it made a neat fence cover. In years past I have cut it back in the Fall, but last season I did not.  Much to my surprise, this vine produced little seeds that have been available all winter for these conical beaked birds. In February they were still eating up and down this vine.

The different varieties of small birds all have two things in common. Their conical beaks and their girth. All of these birds look very well fed. I tend to credit these natural seeds from the vine. Of course I’ve added other food for the other different shaped-beaked birds, but the conical beaked birds have needed no supplement because of this vine.

It’s fun to look at every aspect of any creature and to realize every part has a purpose. In the case of the beak, the purpose is directly related to the survival of the bird.  Where birds live, their migration patterns, and the food sources they seek every day all are instilled in their instincts because in part of the shapes of their beaks.