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Bird Characteristics


Birds' bills are adapted for the food they eat. Cardinals have strong, conical bills that help them crack open seeds. Hummingbirds have long, thin bills that help them collect nectar. Hawks and falcons have strong, hooked bills that help them tear into their prey. Pelicans have large pouches of skin on their lower bill that can hold fish. Ducks, swans, and geese have flat bills that help them filter food from the water. Woodpeckers have strong, pointed bills that help them drill holes into trees and extract insects. Looking at a bird's bill can often tell you a lot about what and how the bird eats, where it lives, and even how it behaves!

Legs and Feet

TalonBirds' legs and feet vary in length and shape depending on habitat and behavior of the bird. Most birds have four toes with claws at the end. In some birds, like hawks and eagles, the claws are very long and very strong. The strong claws, or talons, help them capture and kill their prey. In most species, the toes are arranged in a 3:1 pattern - three toes in the front and one toe in the back. This helps birds grip things. Some birds, like parrots, have
zygodactal feet. Zygodactal feet have toes in a 2:2 arrangement. This gives their feet super gripping power! Some birds, like the three-toed woodpecker, have only three toes - two in the front and one in the back. The ostrich is the only bird that has only two toes - a large toe that is about seven inches long with a sharp claw and a shorter toe about four inches long with no claw. Wading birds have long legs and long, thin toes that help them walk in wetlands. Water birds like ducks and geese have short legs and webbed feet that help propel them in water.

Like bills, a bird's legs and feet can tell you a lot about where a bird lives, how it behaves, and what and how it eats!