Tag Archives: natural history

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.