It depends on the bird. They have adapted to eat lots of different things, in different places and at different heights (this helps to avoid competition for same food sources).
The size, shape and structure of a bird’s bill can tell you a lot about what that bird eats:
- Fish-eating birds’ bills (like those of loons and herons) are generally long, straight, and pointed with sharp edges for grasping or spearing their prey.
- The beaks of birds that catch insects in the air might be short and broad and open very widely so they can swoop through the air and catch insects or they might have strong flat beaks with hooked tips to snatch them in mid-air.
- The beaks of those birds that eat seeds are different depending on the seed that they prefer (photos). Grackles for example, have a sharp ridge on the roof of their mouth – this allows them to crack open large seeds.
Birds don’t have teeth. They have to grind up their food in their digestive tract. Some birds “lap-up” food with their tongues (hummingbirds).
Did you know?
To eat road kill, crows have to wait for something else to tear open the body or for the body to decompose and soften, since a crow’s beak isn’t usually strong enough to tear open the dead animal’s skin.
Book recommendation: A great book about beaks is: Beaks! by Sneed B. Collard (Author) and Robin Brickman (Illustrator)