birds with big beaks

19 Birds With Big Beaks: Facts And Pictures

A bird's beak can be its most unique feature, even though it's barely noticeable in some species. Some special birds have thin, long beaks, and others have enormous bills. In this article, we look at 19 eye-catching birds with big beaks.

Beak and Bill: Are they the same?

Some people attempt to differentiate between a bill and a beak. They say beaks are bony and sharp, while bills are fleshy and flat.

However, the fact remains that the terms "beak" and "bill" are synonymous. They mean the exact same thing, whether you are talking about a turtle, a platypus, or a bird. So, we use both terms interchangeably throughout this article.

Related Read: Bird Facts.

Top 19 Birds With Big Beaks

1. Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

Sword-billed Hummingbird small bird with big beak
Photo by Andy Morffew on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The swordbill or sword-billed hummingbird has an extremely elongated bill. Its bill contributes to almost half of its total length. Its beak length is 3.15–4.72 in, and it is the only bird with a beak longer than its body2. Swordbills have to perch with their bills pointed upwards to keep their balance.

The sword-billed hummingbird has a unique advantage over other nectar-feeding birds. With its long bill and equally long tongue, it easily feeds off flowers with long corollas that typically deter other birds. They are essential pollinators of such flowers.

The bill of the sword-billed hummingbird is useless for preening. It's far too long, so it uses its feet instead. 

Related Read: Hummingbird Facts.

2. The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus leucomelas)

The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Photo by Andy Morffew on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Remember the popular cartoon classic Lion King? The steward of the Mufasa's household, Zazu was a southern yellow-billed hornbill. This bird has a bright yellow curved beak that has earned it the nickname, flying banana. 

Southern yellow-billed hornbills live mainly in South Africa. Still, small populations exist in the southern regions of Zambia, Angola, and Malawi. Their black and white plumage easily recognizes them.

These birds eat small animals, insects, seeds, and occasionally fruit. During breeding season, the female seals herself into the nest with only a small hole for her mate to pass food through.

3. Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros)

Rhinoceros Hornbill
Photo by David Berkowitz on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The beak of the Rhinoceros hornbill is just giant; it's truly unique. There is a hollow structure located on its long and slightly downward-curved beak. It is an upward-curved casque. The Rhinoceros hornbill's casque is a beautiful golden yellow.

Male and female Rhinoceros hornbills have very similar appearances3. One way you can tell the difference is to look at their eyes. Males have red eyes with black skin around them, and females have white eyes with red skin.

Furthermore, the Dayak people of Borneo believe that the rhinoceros hornbill is the chief of the forest birds. This Asian bird with a big beak is Malaysia's national bird and the Malaysian State's bird, Sarawak.

4. Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis)

Great Hornbill
Photo by Bernard Spragg. NZ on Flickr (Public Domain)

Many things make the great hornbill interesting to look at, including its striking plumage pattern. But its most notable feature is its vivid yellow concave casque, which can look like a cap when viewed from the side. 

For males, the casque most likely functions as a tool for self-defense and a way to attract mates4. The actual beak is impressively large. The upper mandible is yellow, while the lower part of the beak is white.

Great hornbills are distributed across Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula, and mainland Southeast Asia. They nest in old-growth trees that are at least 1968 feet high. Great hornbills have few predators and can live for as long as 50 years.

5. American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

American White Pelican sea bird with big beak
Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The American white pelican has pure white plumage with black flight feathers. The black feathers are usually hidden from view except for when the bird is in flight. Its impressive long beak can measure up to 12 inches.

Pelicans have an enormous bill with a pouch-like lower mandible. Their bill pouches are an excellent tool for catching fish in shallow waters. They just scoop water with fish in it and tip their head to drain the water and swallow the fish. They also use their beaks to excrete excess salt.

During the breeding season, breeding adults of this pelican species develop a flat, horny knob on the upper mandible. 

Related Read: Pelican Facts.

6. Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

Australian Pelican
Photo by Dfrg.msc on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

The Australian pelican has the longest bill of all bird species alive today. Its beak length can measure over 18 inches. There's a small hook at the top of the upper part of their long, light pink bills.

Their stretchy lower mandible has a large pouch to hold 3 gallons of water. They use the pouch as a kind of fishing net. Australian pelicans feed on fish primarily but also consume small reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. They are opportunistic feeders that steal or scavenge food from other animals.

Like all pelicans, they are graceful fliers despite their large size. The Australian pelican can remain in flight for 24 hours1.

7. Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

Shoebill scary bird with big beak
Photo by William Stephens on iNaturalist licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original)

This African bird, with its somewhat stork-like form, is comical to look at. However, some might find its appearance scary. It has very long, thin legs, grey plumage, and a large shoe-shaped bill resembling a clog. 

A shoebill's beak length is approximately 12 inches and 5 inches wide. It has sharp edges and a curved hook at the tip of the upper part of the bill. Moreover, the beak is adapted for catching big, slippery, or hard-shelled prey.

Shoebills eat lungfish, snakes, tilapia, eels, baby crocodiles, and turtles. While hunting, these birds can wait without moving for hours to lure prey in with a false sense of safety5.

8. Goliath Heron (Ardea Goliath)

Goliath Heron
Photo by Derek Keats on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The Goliath heron, or giant heron, is the largest living heron in the world. It can stand at a height of 5 feet and has a 6 to 7 feet wingspan. The length of its beak is 7.9 inches.

Because of its size, the Goliath heron prefers relatively large fish to meet its nutritional needs. The bird uses its long and sharp bill like a spear to stab at fish underwater. They bring their catch to the surface of floating plants and kill it properly by stabbing it some more.

Goliath herons are not efficient fish hunters, so they supplement their meals with small mammals, frogs, prawns, lizards, and snakes. 

9. Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)

Keel-billed Toucan tropical bird with big beak
Photo by Chloe Evans on Unsplash

The keel-billed toucan is native to South and Central America. It has a large and colorful beak that has earned it the name rainbow billed toucan. Although its plumage is mostly black, the colorful bird has bright yellow cheeks, throat, and chest. The area under its tail is bright red.

Like all toucan species, the oversized beak of the keel-billed toucan is made of keratin. It is hollow, with only thin rods of bone to provide support. The beak length is estimated as one-third of its 20-inch body.

These tropical birds with big beaks are primarily fruit eaters but occasionally eat insects, lizards, eggs, and baby birds. They eat fruits by tossing them in the air, catching them in their mouth, and then swallowing them whole.

Related Read: Toucan Facts.

10. Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco)

Toco Toucan
Photo by Carmel Arquelau on Unsplash

The Toco toucan is the most commonly encountered toucanet species, and it is also the largest. Other names they call the bird are giant toucan and common toucan. The bird is native to South America's tropical forests. It is revered as a sacred bird by some cultures.

The beak length of a Toco toucan is about 7.5 inches. The bill is a lovely ombre of yellow and orange with a black tip.

A toucan's large beak is vital for regulating body heat. It contains many tiny blood vessels that help to dissipate heat as blood goes through them.

11. Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)

Black Skimmer
Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The black skimmer has an uneven beak; the lower mandible is longer than the upper mandible by at least 0.8 in. So, if you were talking about the beak length, you'd have to specify the part you are referring to.

Black skimmers unusually prey on small fish. They fly low over the water with their beak open. The lower mandible is submerged, and once it touches a fish, the upper mandible clamps down instantly6

A male black skimmer will court his mate by presenting a gift of fish. He may offer a stick leaf if he can not get a fish.

12. Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)

Spoonbill white and pink bird with big beak
Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The Roseate spoonbill has arguably the prettiest plumage of all birds. The large wading bird has pale pink feathers with bright red around the rump and shoulders. The adults have an unfeathered pale green head.

Like all spoonbills, they have wide, flat bills that resemble wooden spoons. Their long bills are about 7 inches long. They dip and swing their long beaks side to side in the water, searching for small crustaceans, tiny fish, plants, and insects.

Furthermore, a roseate spoonbill usually sleeps standing on one leg, tucking its head beneath its shoulder and back feathers. You can find roseate spoonbills in Central and South America.

13. Kiwi (Apteryx)

kiwi flightless bird with big beak
Photo by Allie_Caulfield on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The kiwi bird is native only to New Zealand and is the national bird of that country. Kiwi can't fly and has hair-like feathers that make it look more like a furry than a bird. They have a thin, long beak that points downwards. Their beak length can get to 6 inches.

Kiwi is the only bird with nostrils near the tip of its beak. Other birds have their nostrils higher up. The bird is nocturnal, and rather than its eyes, it uses its keen sense of smell to find food. Kiwi eats earthworms, grubs, insects, seeds and leaves.

Interestingly, a female kiwi lays huge eggs equal to 15 to 20 percent of her body mass7

Related Read: Kiwi Facts.

14. Common snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Common snipe
Photo by Julian on Unsplash

The common snipe has a long bill that is twice the size of its head. The straight-pointed bill measures about 2.5 in. They use their account to dig up earthworms, insect larvae, and slugs in their wetland habitats. The tip of the beak is so sensitive it can feel prey deep in the ground.

Common snipes migrate from Europe and the southern part of Asia to spend their winters in the warmer climates of central Africa. They are hunted for food and try to protect themselves by hiding among vegetation. Or they will also fly in a zig-zag manner to confuse predators.

15. Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)

Long-billed Curlew
Photo by Derek Keats on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

The long-billed curlew is one of the most impressive birds with long beaks you'll ever see. The bird has a long curved bill pointed towards the ground. The beak length is about 8 inches.

Aquatic invertebrates like shrimps and crabs make up the main diet of the long-billed curlew. Its extra-long bill helps probe into the deep burrows and crevices its prey hide in. Long-billed curlews also eat insects and the eggs of other birds.

The long-billed curlew is the largest shorebird in North America. And it is also present in South and Central America.

16. Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber)

Scarlet Ibis pink bird with big beak
Photo by Cullen Hanks on iNaturalist licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original)

A scarlet ibis is a relatively large bird with bright scarlet plumage and rich blue-black coloration on the tip of its wings. It has a long curved beak, which can be red or black. 

Young scarlet ibises have a grey-brown color. As they grow, their bright red color comes from a rich diet of red crustaceans. Therefore, in captivity, where such a diet cannot be abundant, the color fades to pink.

These pink birds with big beaks make their home in northern South America, inhabiting wetlands. Moreover, they are one of the two national birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 

17. White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

White Stork
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Storks are water birds, and the white stork is the most instantly recognizable species, thanks to its baby delivery legend. Their preferred habitats happen to be near or within human settlements.

White storks are long-distance migrants. They spend their summer breeding in Europe. Then, they migrate to sub-Saharan Africa,  parts of the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent.

The white stork is mostly white but has black flight feathers, red legs, and a red beak. Their beak length is about 7 inches.

18. Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

Marabou Stork
Photo by Robert Schwarz on Unsplash

The Marabou stork is the largest stork species, standing at 5 feet with a wingspan of 8.5 feet. The African bird's range is from the Sahara Desert to South Africa.

Marabou storks are not the cutest birds. They have a pinkish naked scabby head. Its throat is also bare with an inflatable pouch attached. Its plumage is black on top and white underneath. They have a straight pointed bill, and the beak length can be over 13 inches.

Although they can hunt live prey, Marabou storks prefer to feed on the carcasses of dead animals. Dead animals can still spread diseases, so Marabou storks are important clean-up agents.

19. Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Oystercatcher
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

The Eurasian oystercatcher is the national bird of the Faroe Islands. The bird's arrival on the island yearly is a cause for celebration as it signals that spring is near. The wading bird nests in a shallow scrape on the ground on raised surfaces like cliffs, earth banks, rocky outcrops, etc.

Despite its name, the bird doesn't eat a lot of oysters. It prefers mussels and cockles. The name probably arises from its ability to open oysters, which few wading birds can achieve.

The Eurasian oystercatcher has black and white plumage, red legs, and a solid bright red-orange bill. The beak length is about 3 inches.

Conclusion: Birds With Big Beaks

Birds with long beaks are amazing wonders of nature, but many of them are facing severe population decline. Their unique bills make them targets of poachers and trophy hunters. Unfortunately, they also suffer the degradation of their feeding and nesting habitats.

So, as you admire the fantastic beaks of the birds on our list, remember to do your part in protecting them. Learning more about the environmental impacts of pollution is an excellent place to start.

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1

Rasmussen, P. C. (1994). Pelecaniform Biology Cormorants, Darters, and Pelicans of the World Paul A. Johnsgard. The Condor, 96(2), 567–569.

2

Hilty, S. L., & Brown, W. L. (1986). A guide to the birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press.

3

Mobley, J. A. (2008). Birds of the World. Marshall Cavendish.

4

Mobley, J. A. (2008). Birds of the World. Marshall Cavendish.

5

Mobley, J. A. (2008). Birds of the World. Marshall Cavendish.

6

Mobley, J. A. (2008). Birds of the World. Marshall Cavendish.

7

Kiwi. (2018, April 20). New World Encyclopedia, . Retrieved 05:08, September 14, 2023

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash
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