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Beaks and Bills

The right tool for the job!

When you stroll the shoreline, notice the bills of a few birds - like the Long-billed Curlew (back) and Bar-tailed Godwit (front) seen here. Call it a "bill" or a "beak", the variety of shapes and sizes of the birds' signature instrument is extraordinary. And crucial! A bird does things with its bill that other animals do with their forelimbs, including preening, nest-building, self-defense, and displaying. Learn more about the Bar-tailed Godwit at BirdWeb.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®
Beaks and Bills

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!
 [Waves and Great Blue Heron]
 Taking a stroll along the shoreline, it’s hard not to notice the bills of a few birds on the way. At the water’s edge, a Great Blue Heron impales a fish with its massive spearhead of a bill. [Mallard] A Mallard strains out tiny animals and plants with its spatulate sieve of a bill. And a Wilson’s Snipe, like the one we’re hearing here, [Wilson’s Snipe] probes deeply for earthworms, working a long, slender bill that is nearly as long as its body.
[Drumming of Downy Woodpecker to draw listener to the woods]
As we look toward the woods, a Downy Woodpecker excavates insects with its deft chisel of a bill; a Peregrine Falcon plucks and tears an unlucky dove with its sharply hooked beak; while an American Robin yanks up worms and plucks berries. [American Robin]
Call it a bill or a beak, the variety of shapes and sizes of the birds’ signature instrument is extraordinary. Not to mention crucial. For, adapted as birds are for flight, their bills must do most things that other animals do with their forelimbs. While a bird’s diet is reflected in its bill shape, there is still preening, nest-building, self defense, scratching, displaying, egg-turning, and other tasks a bill must master.
[Downy Woodpecker]
Probe for more information when you come to BirdNote.org. For BirdNote, I’m Frank Corrado.
###
Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. American Robin and Downy Woodpecker drilling recorded by G.A. Keller; Great Blue Heron by W.H. Gunn; Downy Woodpecker call by W.H.Gunn; Mallards by A.A. Allen; and Wilson’s Snipe by R.S. Little.
Ambient shoreline recorded by C. Peterson
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2011 Tune In to Nature.org   December 2011   Narrator:  Frank Corrado

ID#110205billKPLU   bill-01-FCr

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