Quiz: Bird Beaks

Last week my Ornithology class started their bird anatomy studies with dissections of road- or window-killed birds. The project will continue, as in years past, with cleaning of bones and reconstruction of the skeleton, ending with an articulated specimen.

I took the following photographs of beaks before the class started. Can you identify the bird from the beak? Answers with some additional information are listed below. Hovering your mouse over the images will reveal the name (take care when dangling rodents next to birds of prey) or click on any of the images to see a slideshow with answers included.


  1. The insect killer. Carolina Wren. Long beak with a downward curve. Great for probing insects out of tangles of vegetation.
  2. Worm slayer. American Robin. “with a start, a bounce, a stab/Overtake the instant and drag out some writhing thing” Also fond of fruit. Hughes didn’t mention that.
  3. Glutton of small mammals and invertebrates. Eastern Screech Owl.
  4. Seed cracker and insect slicer. Northern Cardinal.
  5. Insect gleaner and, especially, fruit fiend. Gray Catbird.
  6. Serious seed cracker and bug crusher. Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
  7. Connoisseur of little insects and dainty fruit. Swainson’s Thrush.
  8. Omnivorous rascal, fond of using its beak to lever into hidden things. Common Grackle.
  9. Bunnies, beware. Red-tailed Hawk.
  10. Everything, beware, including most of the birds on this list. Great-horned Owl.
  11. Bird and rodent destroyer. Note the tomial tooth: a notch in the beak used to pop the neck vertebrae of victims. This notch is shared by all falcons. For the prey, a fast way to go. Merlin.
  12. A mellow forager on plants, algae, and invertebrates. Beaks the muddy edges of lakes, grabbing underwater snails and water bugs. American Coot.
  13. Silencing songbirds. Cooper’s Hawk.

13 thoughts on “Quiz: Bird Beaks

  1. C.C.

    Seeing your Cooper’s Hawk beak description prompted me to share …
    … on our GBBC hike yesterday, we learned that Black chinned hummingbirds like to make their nests in areas where Cooper’s Hawks make theirs – the Cooper’s Hawks take care of the songbirds that will prey on the hummingbird fledglings … And, one of our grownups found such a hummingbird nest, in the area of at least 4 Cooper’s Hawk nests, and learned that the males will make more than one, to allow a choice for the female.
    -CC in Albuquerque

  2. taylorgardens

    Reblogged this on GOPHER VALLEY JOURNAL and commented:
    Following up on the last post about owls. Here is a fun and interesting look at beaks of different birds. The all important way they hunt and eat. Although many are from the Eastern US, look for our Northwestern species: Great Horned owl, American robin, merlin, Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, screech owl (eastern here but probably similar to ours), grackle (close to crow or raven), American coot, Swainson’s thrush, Grosbeak may be similar to our black headed grosbeak?
    Great stuff!!

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      :) I agree — these are very hard without a scale. Isolating the beak from the rest of the body made me realize how remarkable some of these beaks truly are. The wren is particularly fearsome when seen in beak-only view (the last thing some spiders ever see…) Thanks for giving the quiz a try!

  3. countrymoosie

    Well – that was a fun – er – learning experience! Something was divebombing my dad’s hummingbird feeders a few days ago – a small hawk – sharp shinned hawk? Hard to tell – so fast! Central California coast.


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