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Home Adaptations Beaks Probing
White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/ NGPC)

Some beaks look similar but are used for different purposes.

For example, the heron and the egret have long, pointed beaks. So do birds such as the ibis, curlew, snipe, and godwits.

But look closely and you'll see that the beaks of the ibis, curlew, snipe, and godwit are more slender than the beaks of the heron and egret. These beaks are not made for hunting like the beaks of the heron and egret.

Instead, these slimmer beaks are used to probe in mud and shallow water for worms, crustaceans,and insects.

Actually, not all long, pointed, slender beaks are used for probing, either. For example, phalaropes use their thin, sharp beaks for a different style of feeding. First, the phalarope stirs up insects and small crustaceans in the water with its feet by walking rapidly in small circles. Then, using its beak, it will "pick up" droplets of water that contain small bits of food.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

By taking advantage of the surface tension of water, phalaropes use a repeated tweezering motion to "ratchet" the droplets of water up their beak. When the droplet reaches their throat, they dispose of the water and swallow the food particles.

By using this process, the phalarope doesn't have to rely on suction to draw up the water and it doesn't have to depend on its tongue to maneuver food particles up to its throat. It only takes hundredths of a second to "ratchet up" each droplet of water, so this is a much more efficient feeding method for the phalarope than tilting its head back each time to get the droplet to its throat.


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