Birds don’t just sit in the middle of a bird’s face for decoration. Each bird species has a particular beak shape that helps birds successfully find and prepare the meals they enjoy. Beaks, or bills, have adapted to suit the needs of the birds they serve.
Some birds, including the swallow and whippoorwill, can open their mouths wide. This allows them to scoop insects out of the air as they fly by. Insect-eating birds rarely use their beak in capturing food. That’s why their beaks are almost non-existent.
Seed-eaters, including finches, grosbeaks, and buntings, usually have strong, short bills with sharp edges that help them crack open shells. One of the strongest seed-eater beaks is that of England’s hawfinch, which can crack open cherry pits.
Most ducks have broad, flat beaks that help them take in mouthfuls of muddy water. Then they can strain the water through the beak’s edge, which has rows of bristles lined up like the teeth of a comb. Horny projections from inside the lining of a duck’s mouth allow it to sort what it can eat from the mud,
Spoonbills have long, flat beaks that they hold a slightly open and shake from side to side in shallow salt marshes and coastal waters. They close their bill quickly when something edible floats by.
Storks, with their lanky legs and long, thick bills, get their meals by picking through marshes and damp fields. Their bills allow them to catch and kill snakes, frogs, and insects.
Birds of prey, such as the peregrine falcon, buzzard, and eagle, have a hooked tip at the end of their beak that helps them tear apart meat. They usually hunt for food from a perch or by flying above and quickly swooping down. Owls—most of which eat rodents—also have this hooked beak.
Puffins have short beaks that can grasp small fish tightly. A bright covering grows over the male’s beak in early spring, making it look larger and allowing it to appear more attractive to female puffins that are ready to breed. Puffins shed the covering after breeding season.
The thin, sharp bill of a woodpecker helps it poke into trees’ tiny crevices for insect larvae. Sometimes woodpeckers wedge pinecones into tree bark crevices so that they can peck out the seeds.