Sunday 4 March 2012

Why do Birds have Beaks?

Garden Girl told me that last week, during her maths learning, she was bored. So instead of listening to her teachers tell her all about 'full and empty' she began to ponder birds. Why she picked this topic I have no idea, but one of the questions she asked me, as she skipped home from school that day, was, 'Why do birds have beaks?' and somewhere, from the bottom of my memory pit, a little light switched on and I was actually able to answer her question this time.

Birds need a tool for carrying out lots and lots of different types of activities, such as searching in the soil for worms, picking up and carrying twigs for their nests, ripping apart food, or scooping up fish. The beak is that tool. Beaks are very strong and each type of bird has a different shaped beak, depending what it needs to do with it.

When we arrived home we had a look at some bird pictures in books and on the internet. I chose birds with very distinctive beaks to show her:

Woodpecker, with its short, pointed and sharp beak for hammering holes is wood
Puffin, with a large, bowl-like beak in which they can store fish while they hunt for more
Eagles, with sharp, hooked beaks for tearing apart animals

We compared these to the beaks of birds we see in our garden, such as the robin, blue tit and magpie, which all have quite short beaks for fruit foraging, worm digging or insect catching.

Birds also have beaks, rather than mouths, because human and animal jaws, (the bones in the mouth area) are very heavy. Birds need to be very light so they can fly. I asked Garden Girl to feel her jaw bones, as she moved her mouth and to rest her chin on her hand, to get an idea how heavy the bones are. Beaks, although they are very strong, are also very light; perfect for flying.

There is a short and useful film on the BBC Nature website which explains some of the ways birds are adapted to be lightweight, which you will find here.

Other websites with information about bird beaks include:

BBC Nature

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