If you have not yet discovered the joys of birdwatching, you may wonder why birders are so enthralled with this popular hobby. One of the reasons is due to the sheer diversity of birds.

Birds are such fascinating creatures and with more than 18000 species, you are not likely to get to know them all.

Non-birders may assume the diversity is based solely on variability in size, plumage colors, and markings. In fact, it’s also the tiny differences that make each species so utterly unique.

For example, if you zoom in for a closer look, you will notice that the length and color of a bird’s legs will help you identify it.

And here is where we come to the topic we want to delve into – interesting facts about bird bills The characteristics of a bird’s bill (also called a beak, but sometimes just used to refer to bills that are shorter and curved) will give you a tip as to what it eats and the kind of bird that it is.

Interesting facts about bird bills - close up of kingfisher with long, pointy, bill

There are so many interesting facts about bird bills. For example, birds have bills of different size, shape, and color. These attributes can not only help us identify them, but can also clue us in to their sex, age, and forage and feeding habits.

Let’s first explore the anatomy of the bird bill (to avoid any confusion, we will use the term “bill” instead of “beak” going forward).

Interesting Facts About Bird Bills – The Anatomy of the Bill

Like our mouth, jaw, and nostrils, bills are an important and critical part of bird anatomy.

Closeup of eagle profile and beak

The bill is comprised of the following parts, and the characteristics of these structures can help us in bird identification:

  • Nares – these are the nostrils (used for respiration) and can vary in position, size, and shape.
  • Upper Mandible – also referred to as the Maxilla, this is the top section of the bill and can vary in size, shape, and length, as well as other characteristics.
  • Culmen – this is the line positioned down the center of the upper mandible. It is not always distinct enough to see.
  • Lower mandible – also referred to as the mandible. Color and markings of the lower mandible may differ from that of the upper mandible.
  • Tip – The tip refers to, not surprisingly, the tip of the bill. The tip shape can significantly vary and is often determined by diet. For example, a meat-eating bird may have a hooked shape tip.

There are also areas adjacent to the bill with characteristics worth noting for the purposes of identification:

  • Gape – The gape is located at the point where the upper and lower mandibles come together.
  • Lores – The lores are located between the eyes and base of the bill. This area may differ in color and pattern.
  • Chin – this is located at the base of the mandible. Like the lores, this area may different in color

Fun Facts About Bird Bills You May Not Know

Are you ready for more interesting facts about bird bills? Here is one – Did you know that bird bills are toothless? Yup, they are, though birds, like us, do have tongues.

Also, just like human fingernails, the bills of birds consist of the protein known as keratin. As the bill is used and the keratin wears down, a new layer forms so that the bill of the bird remains sharp and un-splintered. After all, the bird’s bill is an important resource so must always be in tip top shape.

Just look at the Woodpecker with its strong bill and how it pecks away at a tree relentlessly. It has a bill that can contend with a lot of pressure and it doesn’t have to worry about a concussion while boring away into a tree.

Pileated Woodpecker with striking crest walking up side of tree

Finally, sometimes captive birds like your regular budgie or parrot have to have their bill trimmed because they don’t wear down like they do for birds in the wild.

Bird Bills and Feeding

When it comes to interesting facts about bird bills, the relationship between a bird’s bill and feeding behaviors are at the top of the list.

Birds bills come in a variety of shapes and size, and for good reason – often based on factors that include the types of food they consume.

Feeding birds in the garden can be such fun and you’ll soon start to notice how your feathered friends approach food. (If you have a great pair of binoculars, you can zoom in on the birds to increase your viewing fun. Check out our top 4 recommendations for the best binoculars for eyeglass wearers).

You’ll quickly learn that the seed you put out for birds isn’t eaten by all birds.

You’ll begin to recognize the different sizes and shaped bills and understand how these bills play a role in the kind of food a bird eats.

Viewing birds feeding in the wild can also help us understand the connection between bill shape and size, and the tasty treats these adorable creatures consume.

Lets review a few examples:

Conical, cone-shaped bills

Four sparrows, with their cone shaped bills, sitting on a log

If you have sparrows that visit your garden, you can easily see that these sweet, faithful visitors have a bill that is short, stout, and conical. They feed mostly on grains and seeds.

Birds with the cone-shaped bills have the uncanny ability to use a groove in their bills to crack seeds open. The seed fits niftily into this groove and the bird can then separate the seed from the shell and consume it.

Birds with cone-shaped bills also include house finches, goldfinches, grosbeaks, and cowbirds, among many others.

Needle-shaped bills

Hummingbirds of various kinds possess needle-shaped bills. They use their bills to feed on the nectar from flowers, as well as a large variety of insects. The lower part of the bill is flexible, bending so that its surface area increases for the purpose of catching insects.

Some hummingbirds have longer bills that are specialized for extracting nectar from flowers with long corolla. Other hummingbirds have shorter bills and feed from flowers with shorter corolla. Likewise, there are hummingbirds with decurved bills that feed from flowers with curved corolla.

Lovely hummingbird extracting droplet from leaf with it's long bill

Interestingly, when a hummingbird feeds, it will extend its tongue to probe the depths of a flower and lap up the sweet nectar

Long straight dagger bills

Birds with these types of bills, such as herons, use their bills as a dagger – often attacking their food with a stabbing gesture, fling the food up, and then gulping it down their long straight bill.

Hook-shaped bills

Bird with hook shaped bills include various types of carnivores, such as owls, eagles, and hawks.

As for the owl, the shape and power of the bill is designed for capturing, killing, and tearing prey. Specifically, the serrated upper mandible is used to tear through prey, while the lower mandible is designed to hold the prey as the upper mandible does the heavy lifting work.

The eagle uses its sharp talons to capture prey, and then uses the sharp edges of its powerful bill to bite into and tear at its prey’s flesh.

Spatulate-shaped bills

When we think of birds with spatulate shaped bills, we often think of ducks. The shape of these bills can be described as long and flat or, in some cases, long and spoon-shaped.

Mallard duck, with it's spatulate shaped bill, sitting on grass near pond

Ducks with long and flat spatulate bills tend to feed on plant materials which are easy to scoop up. In contrast, ducks with spoon shaped bills are expert at spooning up goodies like smaller fish.

The endangered sandpiper is another bird with a spatulate bill, and feeds on plant material, a variety of small insects, as well as worms and shrimp.

Slender bills

Many birds rely on insects as their food source. Their slender bills are suited to insect hunting. Warblers and wrens have slender bills for snatching insects off leaves and tree branches.

Black and white Warbler with it's slender bill, singing as it sits on tree branch

Sharp, pointed bills

The black-backed kingfisher, the black-billed cuckoo, and the Eastern bluebird are examples of birds with sharp, pointed bills used for insect catching.

Bird Bills Serve Many Additional Purposes

Last section on interesting facts about bird bills, and the one I think is the most interesting.

The bills of birds have adapted to improve function for each particular bird species. Bills of birds are used for many purposes, beyond feeding

● For attracting a mate
● For sinister purposes
● for grooming
● for building nests’
● for defending themselves

Bills used in the mating game

A bird’s bill can play a role in looking for a mate. This is particularly notable in the puffin.

Colorful temporary scales on bill of the Puffin used for mating

When looking for a suitable mate, its bill gets colorful scales that will attract a mate. After spring and the mating season, the colorful scales disappear.

Bills used for sinister deeds

Bills are sometimes used for “sinister” purposes. For example, the Shrike is just a regular-looking garden bird but it has a dark secret, and it uses its hooked bill to perform its dark deeds. It sits on a perch in a tree, and when it spots live prey such as a rat, lizard, or smaller bird even, it swoops upon it, using its strong bill to kill its prey.

If that’s not enough, this predatory songbird will sometimes take things a step further and impale its prey on a thorn to be relished later on.

Bills used for grooming

Birds have may methods of preening (grooming) themselves. One of these methods involves using their feet and bills to keep each feather in tip top conduction. When preening, some birds will moisturize their feathers with oils from their bodies. They will also waterproof their feathers and remove parasites, as well as the sheaths from molted feathers.

Bills used for building nests

Think of how a nest is built – the components of a bird next must be gathered and then woven into a structure, and made sturdy via mud and spider webs. Birds will use their bills to accomplish these tasks.

Stork building nest with materials in it's bill

Bills used for self-defense

Birds can use their sharp, powerful bills to defend themselves from predators. Their strong bites, coupled with their sharp talons, can do a lot of damage.

The fascinating diversity of birds and their bills

As you can see, there is no end of interesting facts about bird bills!

Birds provide us with so much fascination and interest. It’s amazing that the bill can differ so significantly across birds, and serve so many purposes.

Invite birds to your garden by filling your bird seeder with different seeds, and when your fine feathered friends arrive, make sure to pay attention to their bills and how they use them. Grab a pair of binoculars so you can detect the finer differences, not apparent to the naked eye.