As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Monday, 26 March 2018

The World Outdoors: Birds' tongues reflect their diet, habitat

Published:March 16, 2018
Updated:March 16, 2018 5:53 PM PDT

Bird’s tongues have adapted remarkably and reflect the diet of each species. This great blue heron’s specialized tongue helps it to consume fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. 

If you were asked about what a bird’s tongue was like, you might imagine a tongue such as your own. The truth is, birds’ tongues can be rather different. They serve a range of specialized purposes.

In his book Extreme Birds, Dominic Couzens keys in on woodpeckers. “A woodpecker’s tongue is capable of independent movement at the tip, which makes it a formidable weapon for lapping up prey hidden away in holes.

There also are bones that constitute part of a  hyoid apparatus in birds’ tongues.

To accommodate a tongue many times longer than its bill, the woodpecker’s tongue is anchored in its right nostril and extends over its scull and out the beak, and thus is capable of extending more than half the bird’s body length. 

Some grubs and other prey can be impaled on the tongue. There are barbs or hooks on the tip of some woodpeckers’ tongues to facilitate catching prey, and there is a sticky glandular secretion that also helps these birds catch insects.

Sapsuckers have hair-like bristles that help them ingest sap. Of our woodpeckers, the Northern flicker has the longest tongue and it has a barbed tip. This is a legitimately extreme family of birds.

Like woodpeckers, hummingbirds have tongues that extend past the end of their beak. This helps them consume nectar from trumpet-shaped flowers.

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