Beautifully Built Bird Beaks & Bills

You have a bird feeder out in your back yard, but you notice that not all of the birds you have seen are visiting it – Why might that be?

Well, one answer might be that not all birds are designed to eat the same foods. By looking at the bird’s beak or bill, you can guess what they are designed to eat, and therefore, maybe even their ideal habitat!

For instance, ducks and many other waterfowl birds have bills that are shaped more like a scoop or spoon. This is so that they can scoop up nutrient (and bug) rich water and aquatic plants! With a bill designed like that, it makes sense that you wouldn’t see them waddling around a desert looking for a tasty lizard snack. Streams that run through your property or a garden pond may attract these waterfowl.

Geese have more triangular bills than ducks, but still are aquatic plant/insect eating birds.

The hummingbird, with it’s needle-like beak is perfectly designed to go after trumpet-shaped flowers with sweet nectar to eat with their long tongues via capillary action, similarly to how a paper towel absorbs water. The beak is simply what protects the tongue. Add trumpet flowers or tube-shaped flowers (especially red ones!) to attract them. If gardening isn’t your strong suit or not feasible, add a special sugar-water hummingbird feeder!

Hummingbirds LOVE the color red! Add red trumpet flowers or red feeders to attract these fascinating birds to your yard.

Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Grosbeaks have beaks that are perfect to crack open seeds with. They have a special curve on their strong beak that perfectly fits nuts and seeds. They can use their beaks as specialized nutcrackers! Attract these songbirds with sunflowers or large seed producing plants. They love black oil sunflower seed and Blue Jays love the feast that a shelled, peanut-filled feeder creates.

old process cardinal
These strong beaked birds specialize in cracking open nuts and seeds.

Insect-eaters, like Downy Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and more have beaks that are made to hammer away at wood and almost pinch or spear the buggies within. Woodpeckers love hammering away at suet feeders. They also love searching for insects in dead wood – so don’t clear out all dead wood – leave some for the woodpeckers!

Downy woodpeckers specialize in hammering away at trees in search of insects that bore into the wood, however they can also be seen pecking at black oil sunflower seeds.

Finches, whose beaks sparked the start of humans classifying, sorting, and recognizing differences in animal adaptations, love tiny seeds like thistles. Their beaks are shorter and narrower than those of the large seed/nut eaters. To attract these birds (my personal favorite songbird is the American Goldfinch), put up a Nyjer seed feeder and keep purple thistles available for them.

This thistle provides perfect food for these lovely yellow finches!
This thistle provides perfect food for these lovely yellow finches!

Raptors have strong, sharp, and curved beaks. Their top mandible is curved into a hook which is perfect for holding on to meat and ripping into it and overlaps the bottom mandible slightly so that it can cut and sever the meat. You wouldn’t see one of them pecking at a flower or sucking up nectar! While these birds may be a hassle around your songbird feeder, they are important parts of the ecosystem and can reduce rodent pest population. Put up raptor nest boxes (like kestrel, owl and others) to attract these birds of prey to your area.

The curved beak of the Barred Owl is designed to shred, hold, and rip meat. These birds do not have the ability to eat seeds or drink nectar like other birds are.

It’s amazing how many birds can come to our yards, yet they all eat and use their own specialized resources! As you garden and design your yard, consider attracting these different bird species to enjoy the beauty that their diversity can bring.

Bring these marvelous birds to your home by adding some bird-themed art to your walls!

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