10 Wonderfully Weird Bird Beaks

10 Wonderfully Weird Bird Beaks

Jess Caron
Published: 02/27/2013

Our feathered friends boast an astonishing variety of beaks, from massive to disproportionately long to deadly. Here are ten of the most astonishing, useful, and just plain weird beaks from around the globe.

 

Photo: Andrew Siani/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

1. Rhinoceros Hornbill

All hornbills have a feature called a casque on their bills (hence the name “hornbill”), but those of the rhinoceros hornbill are the most impressive. These hollow chambers, which are thought to amplify the bird’s calls, take five or more years to develop. The casque may be involved in courtship and other social interactions.

 

Photo: Mr. T in DC/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

2. Canada Goose

Birds don’t have teeth, but the Canada goose comes close. The ubiquitous bird has short, serrated tooth-like structures made of cartilage protruding from the edges of its beak. These ridges help pull up vegetation from the ground and aquatic plants from pond bottoms. The goose doesn’t chew its food, though—it swallows gravel to help break up the food.

 

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher (c) WCS

 

3. Crested Coua

Crested couas, members of the cuckoo family native to the East African island nation of Madagascar, have plain black beaks as adults—but as chicks they have colorful markings on the insides of their beaks, and each youngster boasts its own unique design. These markings are thought to help parents identify their chicks or aim for their offspring’s beaks during feeding. The markings fade as the chicks grow.

 

Photo: nao-cha/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

4. Toco Toucan

This Amazon avian’s famously colorful bill also happens to be the largest in the bird class—a whopping 7.5 inches long. Toucans use these enormous beaks to do many things- from reaching fruit on branches too small for them to perch on to engaging in a fruit toss as part of a mating ritual! One thing these beaks are not good for is fighting- toucan beaks are very lightweight. They are, however, very strong and good at absorbing impact, so the toucan can survive to play fruit toss another day.

 

Photo: Kenneth Cole Schneider/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

5. Black Skimmer

The black skimmer’s bill is unique: its lower mandible is .5-1.25 inches longer than its upper mandible. This avian underbite makes sense when you look at how the bird feeds:  It drags the bottom half of the beak through the water as it flies over the surface, picking up small fish like minnows and herring. The tip of the black skimmer’s lower mandible is so narrow that water resistance against it is almost zero.

 

Photo: Michael Woodruff/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

6. Sword-billed Hummingbird

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