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10 Small Birds With Long Beaks

Small birds with long beaks long-billed startthroat.
Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever noticed birds with extra long and slender beaks? These specialized birds have evolved to take advantage of specific food sources that other birds can’t access. Their elongated beaks allow them to probe into narrow cracks and crevices, extract nectar from deep flowers, and skewer slippery prey.

In this post, we’ll look at ten birds with some of the longest beaks relative to their body size. Get ready to meet some avian oddities!

Cactus Wren

Small birds with long beaks cactus wren.
lwolfartist, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The cactus wren is a round, puffy bird that lives in the deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico a common sight in Arizona. True to its name, it builds nests in prickly cacti and thorny bushes.

It uses its long, downward-curving bill to probe into cactus flowers and fruits. The bill also helps it grip and inspect crevices between cactus spines where spiders and insects hide.

The cactus wren has learned how to use its bill like a pair of tweezers to extract snacks from its barbed surroundings.

Bewick’s Wren

Small birds with long beaks bewick's wren.
Minette Layne, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bewick’s wren is a bold and noisy bird of the western and central United States. It loves to perch on branches and rocks while belting out its loud, variable song. Despite its small size, a Bewick’s wren will vigorously chase off birds much larger than itself that encroach on its territory.

This feisty wren uses its long, slender, downward-curving bill to pick insects and spiders from bark crevices and dead leaves. The tip of its bill is extra thin, allowing it to extract tiny invertebrates that most other birds can’t reach.

Canyon Wren

The canyon wren is aptly named for its home among steep, rocky canyon walls in the western United States and Mexico. It deftly climbs sheer cliffs and boulders, using its long tail for balance. This wren is so surefooted that it can scamper up surfaces at nearly a 90-degree angle!

The canyon wren’s extra-long bill matches its vertical lifestyle. It uses its bill to probe deep into cracks and holes in the rock face, plucking out spiders and insects. Its bill has a slight downward curve at the tip, which helps it aim into recesses. The length and slender shape also let it access shallow crevices that broader bills can’t fit into.

Marsh Wren

Small birds with long beaks marsh wren.
Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As you may have guessed from its name, the marsh wren inhabits marshes and wetlands across much of North America. It builds a globular nest with a small, round entrance hole in dense reeds and grasses just above the water line. By strategically placing its nest over water, it avoids many predators.

To survive in its wetland home, the marsh wren utilizes its long, slim bill to pluck insects, spiders, and snails from among the reeds and cattails. It can even spear small fish and tadpoles. Its bill length and width allow it to delicately pick through vegetation near the water’s surface with excellent precision.

Rufous-Tailed Jacamar

Small birds with long beaks rufous tailed jacamar.

The rufous-tailed jacamar is a tropical bird found in forests and woodlands of Central and South America. One of the most conspicuous features of this strange bird is its extraordinarily long, pointed bill which can measure up to 4 inches long!

The rufous-tailed jacamar uses this bill like a spear, sitting motionless on a branch until it spots prey. When an insect or small lizard comes into range, it launches its bill with pinpoint accuracy to impale its target. It then returns to its perch to beat its catch against the branch before swallowing it whole.

The rufous-tailed jacamar’s bill is perfectly adapted for its unique hunting strategy. It’s length and sharp tip provide an extended impaling reach, while its slender shape offers precision aiming. No insect or lizard within striking distance stands a chance!

Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler

Small birds with long beaks slender billed scimitar babbler.
Umeshsrinivasan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As you may have guessed from its descriptive name, the slender-billed scimitar babbler has an exceptionally elongated, curved bill. This unusual bird lives in the montane forests of Vietnam and Laos.

The babbler uses its scimitar-like bill to probe into dead leaves, mossy branches, and crevices in search of spiders and insects. It also uses it like a pair of tweezers to delicately pick tiny larvae and eggs out of furled leaves.

This bird’s bill is perfectly adapted for detail-oriented tasks that demand precision and finesse. It’s narrow width and downward curve allow it to investigate minute spaces that most birds can’t access carefully.

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Small birds with long beaks sword billed hummingbird.

The sword-billed hummingbird has the distinction of possessing the longest beak relative to the body size of any known bird. This hummingbird lives in the northern Andes Mountains of South America, where it feeds on nectar from long, tubular flowers.

Its bill, typically as long as the rest of its body, is perfectly shaped for plunging deep into blossoms. The bill’s narrow width and sharp point allow the bird to precisely access nectar at the base of lengthy, slender flowers.

Watching a sword-billed hummingbird drink nectar with its oversized bill is amusing. Its bill is so long that the bird has to tilt its head back to preen its feathers! This bird has become wonderfully adapted to the specialized food source in its mountain habitat.

Curve-billed Thrasher

The curve-billed thrasher is a speckled brown songbird that inhabits arid scrublands of the southwestern United States and Mexico. Its name indicates that it has a distinctly curved bill that provides specialized functionality.

The thrasher uses this curved bill to pry into the dry ground and flip over leaves, sticks, rocks and bark to uncover insects, seeds and lizards. The bill’s downward angle is perfect for digging around crevices and debris on the forest floor. Its overall length allows the bird to extricate morsels deep within rocky cracks and holes.

Long-billed Starthroat

Small birds with long beaks long-billed startthroat.
Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The long-billed starthroat is a medium-sized hummingbird that resides in mountainous areas of Mexico and Central America. As you probably guessed from its name, it has an exceptionally lengthy bill.

This bill allows the starthroat to access nectar from exotic long-tubed flowers like the sword-billed hummingbird. But unlike the swordbill, its bill retains a mostly straight and sturdy shape rather than narrowing to a sharp point.

This robust design enables the starthroat to use its bill to pry open and access thicker blossoms and prob slender ones. So while swordbills are highly specialized for certain flowers, starthroats have more flexibility thanks to a bill specialized for power and reach.

Scarlet Honeyeaters

Small birds with long beaks scarlet honeyeater.
Greg Miles from Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Honeyeaters are a family of small, colourful birds unique to Australia and surrounding regions. Many species have elongated, specialized bills for sipping nectar, but scarlet honeyeaters take it to the extreme.

These bright red and blackbirds have thin, slightly curved bills that can reach 5 inches long – more than half their body length! They use these elongated feeding tools to delve deep into flowers and extract the energy-rich nectar within.