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Adaptations of the Beak
Goal: To understand the principles of adaptation using mouth structure of animals as an example.
Grade Level: 2-4
Author: JungleWalk

First discuss the human mouth structure and explain how it is suited to us being ominivorous. Mammals have three kinds of teeth - the incisors for biting, the canines for tearing, and the molars for grinding. Most of the plant eating mammals like cows horses, camels, etc have long rows of molars for grinding, and the meat eating mammals like lion, tigers, wolves, etc. have short strong jaws with strong canine teeth for tearing into flesh. We humans are omnivorous, i.e., we eat both meat and plant material. So we have our front two incisors, the sharp canines, and the flat molars (let the children feel their teeth) for the same purpose.

Let's examine the various shapes of beaks of birds and the bill of the platypus.

Curved beak of parrots and macaws

Green-winged Macaw
Macaws mostly thrive on fruits and nuts. The hooked beaks are perfect for breaking open nuts and seeding fruits. Also this beak is a protection against predators such as snakes and raptors (birds of prey)

View Slide Show

  • Parrot close up (Internet Bird Collection)

Short Pointy Beaks
Birds like finches are mainly seed eaters and have pyramid shaped bills for breaking seeds. Some of these birds have very powerful bills that can even crush the seeds.

View Slide Show

  • Close up video of a perched finch

American Goldfinch

The toucan's huge beak

The Toucan's colorful beak can be used for many purposes. With their beaks Toucans are able to reach fruits, growing on the more distant parts of the twigs. Fruits dominate their diet, but Toucans are not pure vegetarians; they also hunt on insects and small reptiles – another use for the large beak.

View Slide Show

  • Toucan eating fruit using its beak.

The hooked beaks of meat eating birds
The hooked beak of meating eating birds like eagles, falcons, and hawks are meant to tear into other animals. These birds are called raptors or birds of prey.

Below is a video showing a close up of a red-tailed hawk. Notice its hooked beak. (Once you get to the page, do not click on 'play video' button, but instead click on the pictures of hawks in the page below to play the videos)

View Slide Show

  • Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Beaks of water birds

American Avocet
Seabirds like pelicans, which are fish eaters, have long beaks to dive and catch fish in water. Avocets have long thin beaks to probe the shallow water for fishes.

View Slide Show

  • Pelcian diving into water

The Platypus
The platypus lives in the bottom of the sea and mainly eats fishes, worms and insects that live in water. It has no teeth in its long flat bill but uses horny ridged plates inside its mouth to crush its food. A BBC video of a platypus is presented below.

  • Platypus Video


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