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Pecking Order

In New Guinea and northern Australia, the palm cockatoo, a huge black parrot, uses its massive beak to pry open or crack even the toughest nuts and seeds. Photo: Joel Sartore

Omnivorous ravens have beaks suited to a generalist diet: sturdy but not too stout, pointed at the tip, able to handle just about anything.

Photo: Joel Sartore

The Java sparrow wears the requisite seed-crushing beak.

Photo: Joel Sartore

Recent studies have shown that toucans such as the chestnut-mandibled can control blood flow to their enormous beaks, an effective way of dissipating body heat on blazing tropical days.

Photo: Joel Sartore

Long-beaked sandpipers often probe for hidden food, while short-beaked ones usually pick at visible items. The red knot (pictured here), with a bill of intermediate length, does both while feasting on horseshoe crab eggs during its spring stopover along Delaware Bay. The overfishing of horseshoe crabs is imperiling red knots.

Photo: Joel Sartore