Readers’ wildlife photos

June 26, 2022 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and John Avise has some nice photos of bird bills (click photos to enlarge). John’s IDs and notes are indented.

Other Bill Shapes

Two weeks ago I showcased birds with curved bills (either recurved upward or decurved downward), and last week I showcased birds with straight bills.  You might think that those two posts would have exhausted the possibilities, but that would be far from correct.  In truth, birds’ bills or beaks are among the most evolutionarily plastic (labile) of avian features, having been selected for a wide variety of feeding adaptations.  For example, conical bills are characteristic of many seed-eating birds; hooked beaks are characteristic of many flesh-eating birds; and a crossed-bill configuration is used by Crossbills to extract seeds from pinecones.

This week’s post highlights examples of some of these additional shapes that birds’ bills (their eating utensils) can assume.  Except for the Grosbeak that was photographed in Michigan, all of these pictures were taken in Southern California (although the Spoonbill, Flamingo, Toucanet, and Shoebill are
non-native species that I photographed at the San Diego Zoo).

The bill of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) with an attached pouch:

The “depressed” (flattened) bill of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis):

The “compressed” (knife-like) bill of the Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger):

The “spatulate” (spoon-like) bill of the Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata):

The hooked beak of the Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis):

The hooked bill of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus):

The “crossed” bill of the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra):

The “conical” (cone-shaped) bill of the California Towhee (Pipilo crissalis):

The larger conical bill of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus, female):

The “terete” (circular in cross-section) bill of the Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin):

The odd bill of the African Spoonbill (Platalea alba):

The bent bill of the Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber):

The shoe-like bill of the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex):

The fruit-eating bill of the Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus):

9 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Great photographs. Thanks.
    I wonder if the ‘plasticity’ of bird’s bills has to do with them having wings, and those wings not easily being turned into manipulating instruments.
    I see all kinds of parallels to all kinds of pliers and implements, surgical or otherwise, and probably used for similar purposes.

  2. Beautiful photos and great information. I couldn’t figure out the “Red Crossbill” beak so glad to get the information.
    These beaks are so specific.

  3. Thanks a lot for these. The variety in bird bills is indeed amazing. To me, one of the weirdest bills is the skimmer’s, but then skimmers are very weird birds, with their highly specialized feeding method.

    Another incredible bill is the one owned by the Sword-billed Hummingbird of South America. As the name suggests, the bill is astonishingly long; the bird has been described, when on the wing, as a flying needle.

    I’m very impressed with the close-up shot of the highly endangered California Condor.

    1. I’ve shared occasional photos of some avian tongues, but never (to my recollection) as a devoted theme. Tongues are hard to photograph because birds generally tend to keep their bills shut!

      1. I just remembered– It turns out I did post a themed batch on avian tongues! It appeared on this website on October 21, 2020. You can find it by searching “avian tongues” in the WEIT search bar.

  4. Thankyou for such fascinating information on beak diversity. In addition there is the location of the nostrils. The position of these in most birds is at the base or proximal end of the beak. The New Zealand kiwi has a long beak with the nostrils sited close to the tip, but pointing backwards. The Kiwi forages for food by thrusting its beak into leaf litter and soil using its sense of smell to identify prey (earthworms), hence the nostrils placement at the end of the beak. In addition, to avoid jamming the nostrils with soil, the openings of the nostrils point backwards, so that while sniffing for food the nostrils don’t become jammed with detritus or soil particles.
    One should also mention the work of Peter and Margret Grant whose work with a species of Finch was able to demonstrate beak evolution varying with the climate on the Galapagos in ‘real’ time:

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