Podcast

When Does a Crossbill's Beak Get Twisted?

Many birds with unusual beaks aren't born with them.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Transcript: 

This is BirdNote.

If you were to look at the beak of a baby loon or young crossbill, you’d have to wonder just what kind of bird you were seeing. Because their beaks look nothing like the beaks of their parents.

Red Crossbills are a striking example of how some young birds must grow into their adult bill shape.

A young crossbill starts life with a wedge-shaped beak. As it grows up and starts to feed itself by removing conifer seeds from their tough packaging, the tips of its bill begin to grow rapidly — and then they cross.

By the time the bird is a month and a half old, it’s been twisting its bill again and again, always in the same direction, as it extracts hard-to-get seeds. The tips of its bill become fully crossed — kind of like when your parents warned you that if you keep making that face, it’s going to stick that way.

And take loons. These birds begin life with stubby bills that slowly develop their full dagger shape. Or flamingos. A baby flamingo has a beak that looks more like that of a goose. But as the bird grows, the beak starts to curve into that strangely bent flamingo beak we all recognize.

Despite some awkward teenage phases, all of these young birds eventually grow into — and come to rely on — their unique beaks.

For BirdNote, I’m Ashley Ahearn.

Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation. 

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Credits: 

Written by Bob Sundstrom

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie

Editor: Ashley Ahearn

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red Crossbill ML82851841 recorded by G Chapman, 0:05 - 0:55. Common Loon  ML116589201 recorded by D Everaert  0:55 - end.

BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2020 BirdNote   February 2020

ID#  RECR-02-2020-02-11    RECR-02  

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