Bird Adaptations


It’s For the Birds!  



Did you ever wonder why there are so many types of bird beaks (scientists call them bills)? The most important function of a bird bill is feeding, and it is shaped according to what a bird eats. You can use the type of bill as one of the characteristics to identify birds. Here are some common bill shapes and the food they are especially adapted to eat:


CrackerSeed eaters like sparrows and cardinals have short, thick conical bills for cracking seed.
ShredderBirds of prey like hawks and owls have sharp, curved bills for tearing meat.
ChiselWoodpeckers have bills that are long and chisel-like for boring into wood to eat insects.
ProbeHummingbird bills are long and slender for probing flowers for nectar.
StrainerSome ducks have long, flat bills that strain small plants and animals from the water.
SpearBirds like herons and kingfishers have spear-like bills adapted for fishing.
TweezerInsect eaters like warblers have thin, pointed bills.
Swiss Army KnifeCrows have a multi-purpose bill that allows them to eat fruit, seeds, insects, fish, and other animals.


Another characteristic that can be used to learn more about birds is feet shapes! The shape of the feet reflects the habitat that the bird will be found in and the type of food it might eat. Here are some common feet shapes and the environment they are especially adapted to live in:


GraspingRaptors like Osprey use their large curved claws to snatch fish from the water.
ScratchingPheasants and other birds that scratch the soil for food have nail-like toes.
SwimmingDucks and other webbed lined swimming birds use their feet like paddles.
PerchingRobins have a long back toe, which lets them grab a perch tightly.
RunningMany fast-running birds have three toes rather than four.
ClimbingA woodpecker’s hind toes enable it to climb without falling backward.




Students will observe adaptations of feet and beaks of birds and relate these to the bird’s method of feeding and to the bird’s environment.


Lab paper, pictures of birds, pencil


  1. Look at the pictures of the birds. Examine the beak of each bird and determine the type of each beak based on its shape and function. Some beak types may be used more than once.
  2. Place your choices on the chart in the column marked Beak for: (Some of the same beaks may be found on different birds).
  3. Examine the pictures of each bird and determine the type of feet each bird contains.
  4. Place the name of the bird on the line that best describes their type of feet.
  5. Also place the foot type on the chart in column 3 titled Feet for. (Some foot types may contain more than one bird.)


Bird Images For Bird Lab



Chart of Characteristics


Name of BirdHabitatBeak forFeet for


  1. Birds living near lakes, pond or the ocean are most likely to eat the following organisms.
  2. If you see birds walking around a lawn in front of your house, what types of things could serve as a food supply for these birds?
  3. Explain why dead or diseased trees can serve as a food source for some birds.
  4. Based on the talons found on an eagle, what type of beak would it contain?
  5. A hawk looks like it has perching feet. What type of claws does it contain based on the hooked beak?
  6. Which bird contain the longest legs? What type of food do you think it eats?
  7. If you found a bird with climbing feet, what type of food would you expect it to eat?
  8. How many of there birds live near water? How can we tell?