4 Types of Bird Beaks and How Birds Use Them

Bird beaks have a variety of shapes and purposes. Here are the most common beak shapes you should look for and how they help birds find food.

An acorn woodpecker perches on a branch.Steve and Dave Maslowski

Beaks for Drilling

Designed to handle repeated hammering, woodpecker beaks can handle intense pressure. Between the bird’s beak and a skull shape that perfectly protects its brain, a woodpecker doesn’t have to worry about concussions while boring for food or creating a new home. Follow these bird feeding tips to attract more woodpeckers.

A closeup of a golden eagle.Steve and Dave Maslowski

Beaks for Ripping

Certain meat-eating birds, such as owls, hawks and eagles, have hooked beaks, allowing them to tear up their meals. But they aren’t the only ones with this special feature—vireos use their hooked beaks to help them hunt for caterpillars.

A blue grosbeak sits on a birdbath.Danny Brown

Beaks for Cracking Seeds

Bird enthusiasts know sunflower seeds are popular with a variety of backyard visitors. Birds that have cone-shaped beaks have the ability to trap a seed, thanks to a special groove in their beaks, and crack it open. Using their tongues, these birds then nimbly separate the seed from the shell. Grow sunflowers to attract more seed-eating birds.

A pair of black skimmers in flight.Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond/Getty Images

Beaks for Skimming

Look closely at a black skimmer and you may notice it seems to have an underbite. But that’s not a hindrance for these birds—in fact, it helps them catch their food in a very distinct way. They fly while dragging their lower mandibles through water, hoping to scoop up a fish. See our tips to spot more skimmers and other shore birds.

Molly Jasinski
Molly Jasinski is a writer, editor and social media manager for Birds & Blooms. She enjoys watching the robins, cardinals and occasional goldfinch seen around her apartment.