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Beaks - What They Tell You

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Beaks - What They Tell You

Some birds beaks are smaller thank your thumbnail, whereas others are as long as our arm.

  • Finches, sparrows and cardinals that eat seeds and nuts have short, strong looking, usually conical beaks.

  • Sparrows, buntings and other birds that eat small seeds, like grass and weed seeds, have small beaks.

  • Grosbeaks and cardinals that seek out large seeds of maples, spruces and pines have bigger, more powerful beaks than other seed-eating birds.

  • Insect and fruit eating birds, such as vireos, orioles and tanagers have slimmer and relatively longer beaks than seed eaters.

  • Hummingbird beaks are long and narrow, like drinking straws, ready to suck up nectar from even the deepest flower.

  • Swallows and swifts that eat only insects have puny beaks. However, these birds often can open their mouths wide, which help scoop up bugs.

  • Fish eaters, like herons, have extremely long, pointed bills.

  • Birds, such as spoonbills and ducks, that seine the water have beaks shaped like wide, flat spoons so they can strain out the small fish, crustaceans, tiny plants and animals they prefer.

  • Meat eaters, such as hawks and owls, have strong, sharply curved beaks that work as a steak knife.

Chisel Beak

All types of woodpeckers, from the little downy and the flicker to the striking black pileated, have large, stout beaks that are shaped like a chisel. Woodpeckers use their chisel beaks to peck at wood, with the goal of ferreting out insects under the bark or within the decaying heart of the tree. The power of that beak also can crack nuts and acorns to free up the tender nutmeat inside, or loosen dried corn kernels from a cob.

Large Conical Beak

The bright red feathers of a cardinal are so eye-catching that you may have never taken a close look at the bird's beak. It is short and wide, roughly conical in shape. That beak is built for cracking big, hard-shelled seeds. Rose-breasted, evening, and black-headed grosbeaks also have this type of beak. These birds are naturally seek out some of the biggest or toughest seeds around. In the wild, they nibble out the goodies hidden in the hard husks of tree seeds such as ash and catalpa. For a treat, try seeds such as pumpkin seeds, watermelon seed, dried corn kernels, dried peas and the hard-shelled safflower seeds.

Large All-Purpose Beak

The sturdy, medium-long mouthpiece of a crow, magpie, or jay is made for eating practically anything. Their beaks can crack, whack, rip, stab or nibble - whatever technique and eating utensil a meal requires. These birds load their beaks with as many seeds as they can cram in, then use those same sturdy tools to push seeds into soil or mulch. That habit of storing food may be why birds with this kind of beak tend to prefer hard, dry foods at the feeder. Sticky, soft, or juicy foods such as peanut butter, fruit, or suet aren't as appealing to large-beaked birds.

Small Conical Beak

This type of beak is tailored to small seeds. Birds that have a small conical beak include native sparrows, such as white-throated and song sparrows; finches, such as the house finch and American Goldfinch, Juncos and Buntings. Birds with small conical beaks are big consumers of weed seeds and grass seeds. These birds often feed on the ground, where such seeds drop, but they may also cling to the plants to get at the seeds.

Short Thin Beak

Chickadees, Wood Warblers, Bushtits, and a few other birds have these beaks that are made for eating tiny morsels of food. All of these small-beaked birds snap up an abundance of insects, but some of them also eat berries, and Chickadees are well-known lovers of sunflower seeds and nuts. Offer these birds a mix of treats, including soft foods, suet and peanut butter.

Long Thin Beak

A long thin beak is a sign that a bird is an insect of fruit eater. Flycatchers and orioles eat insects almost exclusively, and you probably won't be able to lure them to a treat feeder. The exception is that orioles will visit nectar feeders. Thrashers, tanagers, thrushes, mockingbirds and catbirds also have beans on the thin side, but they are adapting to eating at backyard feeders.


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