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The different bills’shapes - Page 5

Show me your bill, I will know what you eat!


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HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol. 7 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliott-Jordi Sargatal – Lynx Edicions – ISBN: 8487334377

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 6 by  Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliott-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions, 2001 - ISBN: 848733430X

L’ENCYCLOPEDIE MONDIALE DES OISEAUX - Dr Christopher M. Perrins -  BORDAS - ISBN: 2040185607


See the article: Description of the bird and its plumage

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We have to mention the stunning bills of toucans and hornbills.

Toucans have long, narrow, brightly coloured bill, curving downwards at the tip. This bill shows small to large saw-like edges or “teeth”, used to tear off parts of some larger fruits. 

Toucans’ bills are much lighter in weight than they appear because it is a hollow structure. The narrow tongue is very long, laminated along the sides and covered with bristles towards the tip.

Ariel Toucan

Ramphastos vitellinus ariel

Toucans seize the food with the bill tip. Then, in order to throw back the food item into the throat, they perform an upwards toss of the head before to swallow.

The bill is also used for digging out in soft matter. Some toucanets are able to excavate a cavity nest into soft rotten wood. Toucanets are smaller than toucans.

Guianan Toucanet

Selenidera koulik

In the same family of Ramphastidae, the araçaris have more jagged bill sides than toucans and toucanets. 

All are fruit eaters, but they also take large insects and some lizards, eggs and chicks of small birds’ species.  

Black-necked Araçari

Ptetoglossus araçari

Green Araçari

Pteroglossus viridis


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Hornbills are amazing birds. They often have a huge bright coloured bill, with casque or not. As in toucans, these bills are hollow and much lighter than they appear too.
According to the species, the bill may be relatively short and deep to long and slender. It is always down-curved, but the curvature varies, and some species may have straight bill.
The bill sides are smooth or show a series of ridges across the base. In the same way, the cutting edges may be smooth or heavily serrated.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

Tockus leucomelas

African Grey Hornbill

Tockus nasutus

But hornbills have unique feature that is the casque on the top of the bill, and there is a diversity of forms among all the members of this family. The development of this casque may last up to six years. 
This huge hollow structure may function as a resonating chamber that probably gives the loud nasal calls of some large hornbills.

Northern Pied Hornbill

Anthracoceros albirostrus

The casque can have multiple functions such as the sexual difference in size between male and female, and probably play an important role in defence and courtship displays.

Wreathed Hornbill

Rhyticeros undulatus

Crowned Hornbill

Tockus alboterminatus

In addition, the bill is used to chisel off the bark, to catch preys and to eat large fruits. They often carry the food items in the tips of the mandibles.

Southern Ground Hornbill

Bucorvus leadbeateri

Hornbills feed on fruit, rodents, snakes, large insects… They usually are omnivorous, and the frugivorous species live more in forested habitats than carnivorous hornbills are found in savannahs.      


Very different, the members of the Family Psittacidae are fruit, seed and nectar eaters.
They have typical down-curved hooked bill.
This bill may be more or less long, according to the species.
The difference is in the tongue, very peculiar according to each group.
Birds feeding on pollen and nectar have brush-like tongue.
Cockatoos have narrow shorter tongue, whereas parrots have broad and fleshy spoon-tipped tongue.
The parrots and macaws are able to crack open very hard shells of exotic fruits or seeds, thanks to their large strong bill.

Blue-throated Macam

Ara glaucogularis

Scarlet Macaw

Ara macao

Some species use their bill in particular way, such as the Western Corella and the Long-billed Corella which have long upper mandible, used to dig up the underground parts of several native plants. Both feed mainly on the ground.

Long-billed Corella

Cacatua tenuirostris

Western Corella

Cacatua pastinator

Other species such as Keas have long, down-curved, deeply hooked upper mandible. Kea feeds on seeds, foliage, insects and nectar, as other parrots. But its sharp, hooked bill allows it to dig out roots and grubs. It also uses the upper part of its bill for tearing up carcasses.    


Nestor notabilis

Pesquet's Parrot

Psittrichas fulgidus

The bill is also used as hook and tool when the bird climbs into the branches.