The beak of a bird is an important part of its body. It allows them to eat and drink, as well as fight off predators. Long beaks are useful in certain situations, and so are short beaks. Short beaks can help you get up-close to eat animal prey, can help with delicate work of removing seeds from plants, and can reach small places to look for insects. In this list we look at a selection of different types of birds with short beaks.
12 Birds with short beaks
1. Barred Owl
Scientific Name: Strix varia
The Barred Owl is a large owl with brownish feathers, a grey-white facial disc, and no ear tufts. Their named “barred” comes from their heavy vertical striping along the front of their body. Their wingspan is up to 3.6 feet and they weigh only 1.3 pounds. These owls are found in forests near water sources, where they build their nests in large trees.
They’re common in Canada, the Pacific northwest, and all of the eastern half of the United States. Barred owls are non-migratory, so remain year-round residents within their range and are one of the most common owls you will spot in the forest. Their “who-cooks-for-you” song is unique among owls, so once you learn it you’ll probably hear them before you see them.
Barred Owls eat small animals like wrens, sparrows, insects, frogs, snakes, rodents, rabbits and fish. For such a large bird they seem to have quite a small beak in comparison, but it is still powerful enough to help them eat their prey.
2. American Goldfinch
Scientific Name: Spinus tristis
The American Goldfinch is a small, yellow-and-black bird found throughout North America. Like many other finches, they have short beaks with conical shapes that are very useful for eating seeds. In the summer males a bright yellow, but in the winter they molt into a much more drab olive color. These goldfinches often call during flight, so you may hear them passing overhead with a repeated “po-ta-to-chip” phrase.
These birds prefer open areas with a high concentration of thistles and asters, such as cultivated lands, meadows or gardens. American Goldfinches can be seen feeding in flocks known as charms. They’re granivores, meaning these birds eat mostly seeds from grasses, weeds, and wildflowers, but they’ll eat insects if necessary. Putting out a thistle feeder is a great way to attract them to your yard.
3. Rainbow Lorikeet
Scientific Name: Trichoglossus moluccanus
Rainbow Lorikeets are a beautiful and distinct parrot species native to Australia. They can be found along Australia’s east coast in forests, woodlands, and coastal bushes. This lorikeet is easily identified by its bright feathers, and it’s easy to see why they were named after a rainbow with their combination of blue, red, green and yellow feathers.
Unlike some other parrot species who have larger, powerful beaks, these lorikeets have relatively short and small beaks. They mainly eat fruits, and probe flowers for pollen and nectar. The end of their tongue is brush-like, which helps them more easily collect pollen and nectar.
4. Yellow Warbler
Scientific Name: Setophaga petechia
The American yellow warbler is a small songbird that breeds across Canada and the United States, then spends winters down in Central and South America. This warbler prefers shady and moist habitats and can be found in forest edges, gardens, marshes, and swamps. While many warblers visit the U.S. to breed, the Yellow Warbler is among the most common to spot, not only due to their bright color but they also sing frequently.
The yellow warbler is easily identified by its golden yellow plumage with rusty streaks on the underside. They can reach 18 cm in length and weigh 25 g. Their beaks are short and thin, and they use them to feed on a variety of prey, including spiders, moths, and caterpillars.
5. Barn swallow
Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica
The Barn Swallow is a migratory bird that spends the winter in Central and South America. But during the breeding season, you can see them all over North America. They’re distinguished by their metallic blue-black plumage, rusty face and pale beige underside. Their tails are deeply forked, their beaks are short, and they range in length from 5.75 to 7.83 inches.
Barn swallows primarily feed on flying insects, and their short beaks help in catching these insects as they fly through the air. Look for them soaring and diving through the air over parks, fields, meadows, lakes and ponds. They tend to catch their prey of flies and other flying insects on the wing in a high speed chase. You can also find their mud nests among eaves and rafters in barns, gazebos, sheds, stables and bridges.
6. American Tree Sparrow
Scientific Name: Spizella arborea
The American Tree Sparrow is a small, grayish-brown sparrow with rusty streaks on it’s wings, back and a rusty cap. They have a short, stocky beak with a dark upper bill and yellow lower bill, which they use to feed on seeds, berries, and insects.
They spend the summer in the far north of Alaska, Canada and the Arctic, then come down into the U.S. to spend the winter. They’re most commonly found in open spaces such as forest edges, gardens, lawns, and fields. Despite being named a tree sparrow, they tend to mostly forage on the ground.
Females will lay about 4-6 eggs per brood, laying one egg each day. Despite the fact that some eggs may be laid 4-6 days apart, they will all hatch together on the same day, within a few hours of each others.
7. Yellow-rumped Warbler
Scientific Name: Setophaga coronata
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is another common migratory warbler species. They winter in Mexico, Central America and southern U.S. states. In summer they move to breed in the western U.S., Canada and Alaska. Their yellow rump and side patches serve as an identifying feature.
The color pattern on the Yellow-rumped warbler can vary depending on it’s location. Males of the “Audubon’s” variety, found mostly in the west, have a yellow throat. Males of the “Myrtle” variety, found more commonly in the east, have a white throat. Like most warblers, their colors will be the most crisp and bright in the spring, and fade considerably during the winter.
Their short, thin beaks are well suited for their diet of insects in the summer and berries and fruit in the winter. These birds travel in groups and prefer to catch their prey while flying. They can also be seen foraging for food in dense vegetation.
8. House Finch
Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
House Finches are common backyard birds across much of the United States. Once native only to the western U.S., once they made their way across the Rocky Mountains they quickly spread across the east. The beaks of these birds are short, conical, and grayish in color. They are brown finches with heavily streaked undersides, and males have a red wash on their face and chest.
You can find house finches in open areas such as parks and gardens with plenty of food. They feed on seeds, buds, and fruits, particularly those of thistle, dandelion, and sunflower. Offer mixed seed and black sunflower to bring them to your feeders.
9. Great horned owl
Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
The range of the great horned owl is huge and extends throughout North America down through much of South America. They’re distinguished by their distinctive “horns,” which are actually just feather tufts. They have multi-patterned brown feathers to blend in with tree bark, yellow eyes, and a small, thin beak.
These large owls are monogamous, meaning they‘ll only have one partner throughout their lives. They communicate with their partner by hooting and are extremely territorial, especially during the breeding season.
Despite their short beaks, these owls consume a wide range of prey, including small insects and birds, as well as rodents such as rabbits, mice, voles, squirrels, and rats. Great horned owls can quickly and effectively rip meat off of bones when hunting prey, thanks to their sharp, hooked beaks.
10. Lincoln’s Sparrow
Scientific Name: Melospiza lincolnii
Lincoln’s Sparrows are small brown sparrows with dark streaks and a white belly. They have short, thick beaks that they use to catch ground insects like beetles, caterpillars, and moths. These sparrows usually catch their prey with their short beaks while foraging on the ground, staying hidden in thickets and vegetation.
During the summer, they live in mountainous areas, but during the winter, they can be found in tropical forests, pastures, and fields. Although these birds are frequently hidden beneath thick vegetation, you can still hear their calls and songs.
11. Dark-eyed Junco
Scientific Name: Junco hyemalis
Juncos are often thought of by people in the U.S as winter birds, since they spend their summers up in Canada. There are multiple sub-species across the U.S. that have slightly different color variations such as the slate-colored (most common), Oregon, and pink-sided varieties. In some places multiple colorations can reside at the same time making it confusing for people to identify them. Two good things to look for when recognizing dark-eyed junco’s that are found on all varieties are their tiny pale pink beak and roundish body shape. They are also usually darker on the head and back, and lighter on the belly.
They are most common in forests and wooded areas where they can often be seen hopping around on the ground. While they do often come to backyard feeders, they tend to like to eat the spilt seed on the ground, especially millet. In the wild they eat primarily seeds and supplement with insects.
12. Eurasian blue tit
Scientific Name: Cyanistes caeruleus
Let’s round out this list with a European species, the Eurasian Blue Tit. These cute, small birds have a distinctive dark blue line that runs around its cheeks, chin, and through its eyes. They also have a distinct blue and yellow feathers with a white face, making them easy to identify.
A Eurasian blue tit’s beak is very short and is primarily used for insect prey. Their short beaks enable them to enter small holes where they hunt for food, such as insects and spiders that other birds can’t reach. They are known for being little acrobats, hanging upside down from tiny branches as they search for food in trees.
Louise is a writer that focuses mostly on wildlife, animals, and nature. She’s developed a growing interest in animal biology and classification.