A Bird’s Bill Holds Clues About the Bird

Have you ever noticed that all birds have different shaped bills?  I see birds all of the time in the Rocky Mountains and don’t think much of it, but today I really looked at the birds’ bills.  Birds’ bills are like clues, telling the observant person all about the bird.

Birds’ bills are not all the same!  Some birds like the chickadee have a small thick bill, but others are very different.  For example, a hummingbird’s bill is long and thin.

Birds have different bill shapes and sizes, just like different mammals have different shapes and sizes of their teeth.  This is because birds, just like mammals do not all eat the same kinds of things nor do they all live in the same place.  Some birds eat fish and frogs and live by water, while others eat  eat berries, nuts, or insects and live in forests.

I know that mammals teeth and mouth are different based on what kinds of food they eat.  For example, predators such as cougars have sharp teeth for tearing and ripping meat, but deer or moose have teeth that are made for chewing.  Birds are exactly the same – their bills are shaped for whatever kind of food they eat.  You can look at any of the common birds of the Rocky Mountains and learn about the bird based solely on the shape of the bird’s bill.

The shape of a bird’s bill will give you clues about what kind of food that bird eats.  Knowing what kind of food a bird eats will help you  guess where that bird lives.

Examples of Bird’s Bills

Look at the photo and think to yourself what this bird may eat and where it may live based on the kind of food it eats.

bird's bill rocky mountains

A hummingbird.

Hummingbird – a hummingbirds’ bill is long.  It is also thin, which makes it perfect for sipping or drinking nectar from flowers.  Since is drinks from flowers, it probably lives near areas where there are lots of flowers, such as meadows.

bird's bill rocky mountains

A Downy woodpecker.

Woodpecker – notice his sharp, strong bill that is perfect for hammering on wood to look for insects in the tree.  Since woodpeckers look for food in trees they need to live near trees so they can be found in forests or woodlands.

bird's bill rocky mountains

Black capped chickadee

Black Capped Chickadee – notice that this bird has a small, short bill, which allows it to eat insects, seeds, and berries.  It is poky enough that it can stab at small insects, yet also strong enough for it to break small seeds.  These different kinds of food are all available in forests, which is where they live.

bird's bill rocky mountains

Red tailed hawk

Red Tailed Hawk – Look at that bill.  It is pointed and sharp on the end, which makes it perfect for ripping and tearing into food.  This makes it a carnivore.  Red tailed hawks need to live somewhere high up where they can see over a lot of terrain.  This is actually one of the most common birds in the USA and can be found in many different types of habitat, but they prefer open areas such as fields and deserts.

bird's bill rocky mountains

Snowy egret

Snowy Egret – Wow!  Look at that long, pointed bill that is like a spear.  It is perfect for stabbing at fish or other small animals in the water.  Since Snowy egrets eat fish and frogs they live near water.