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A bird's useful beak and feet

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Scientists group animals with similar traits into "classes". Birds (or Aves) are a group, or class, of animals that descended from the dinosaurs. They are actually reptiles, and their closest relatives are alligators and crocodiles! There are a few things that make birds different from other animals (and explain why they look much different than crocodiles!).

Birds are the only animals that have feathers. All birds also lay hard shelled eggs (remember, they are reptiles). They have strong but hallow bones which makes them very light - and this helps most of them fly.

Instead of heavy jaws and teeth, birds have light beaks made of keratin (the same thing as your fingernails). If you look at the beaks of different birds, you will see that they have a variety of shapes. These different shapes tell you a lot about what they like to eat.

If you observe the feet of birds, you will see differences as well. The different shapes can tell you about their lifestyle. Read on below to learn how to tell a seed eating bird from a fish eating bird, and a bird who does a lot of running from a bird who perches on tree branches.



Nectar feeders: Birds like hummingbirds have long thin beaks that let them probe deep into a flower and extend their tongue to drink up the nectar.

Seed eaters: Birds that eat seeds have short cone shaped beaks that help them pick up seeds.

Meat eaters: Birds of prey (hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls) have powerful, hooked bills. They use these beaks to rip into the meat of their prey.

Fish eaters:

Beaks are long and sharply pointed like a dagger. They may also have a curve at the end of the beak to prevent the fish from escaping, or a pouch to store the fish.

Insect eaters: birds that catch insects while in flight have beaks that are short and flat. They keep their mouths open very wide and their beaks act kind of like a net to trap flying bugs.

Probing birds: shorebirds, birds that search for food in the sand along shorelines, have long thin beaks that help them probe the mud and sand for worms, gnats, and snails.



Perching: Birds who like to perch on branches, like sparrows, have feet with flexible toes - three pointing forward, and one pointing back. They lock their feet around a branch and can even fall asleep and their feet keep them secure in the tree.

Climbing: Birds like woodpeckers have feet for climbing up and down tree trunks. They have 2 toes on the front of their foot, and 2 toes on the back.

Swimming: Birds like ducks have webbing between their toes that help them swim.

Wading: Some birds, like egrets, have long legs that help them wade through water, and long toes that help them spread their weight over a larger surface so they won't sink into the mud.

Weapons: Birds of prey, like eagles and falcons, have feet with sharp claws and curved toes that can be used to kill, capture, and carry prey.

Scratching for food: Birds like chickens who have to scratch through leaves to find insects and seeds have strong feet and tough claws.

Running: Flightless birds like ostrich and emu have strong legs and powerful feet to help them run fast. An ostrich can run 43 miles per hour!

Activity #1:

See if you can tell what each of these birds eat by their beak shape. Match the beaks to the food. Pull out a piece of paper to write your answers on, and once you're done, you can check your answers with the key on the bottom.










Key: 1 = B, 2 = D, 3 = A, 4 = C

Activity #2:

Draw your own bird. It doesn't have to be real bird, feel free to create a bird from your imagination. Draw beaks and feet based on this lesson. On the back of the paper describe what your bird eats (based on its beak) and the bird's activities (based on its feet).

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