Beaks

Birds' beaks have a great range of specialized shapes to catch and eat different kinds of food. Most birds, except for parrots and birds of prey, catch and hold their food with just their beak.

Beaks
image by Alex Makarov

Of the various features that are common to all birds, perhaps the most characteristic is their beak. All birds have one, but it has evolved differently in each species depending on what it eats and how it catches its prey. It’s also used for defense, mating, regulating body temperature, and building nests.

In biological terms, it is a type of mouth in which the jaws are covered by a horny layer of keratin, like the nails or horn of a rhinoceros, and have no teeth at all. Although it is characteristic of birds, other animals also have beaks. For example platypus and echidnas, turtles and some cephalopods, such as squid.

There are two types of birds: generalists, who use different techniques to obtain food, whose beaks do not have specific shapes; and specialists, whose beaks are adapted for a single function. This could be for obtaining food in a certain way, for mating or for building nests.