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Birds with Hooked Beaks

Birds with hooked bills

Birds have a variety of bill shapes and sizes that have evolved to suit different functions such as foraging, feeding, defense, and mate attraction. The hooked bill, also known as a “raptorial” bill, is typically found in birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls.

The hooked shape of the bill allows these birds to capture and kill their prey efficiently. The sharp, curved tip of the bill is used to pierce the skin and flesh, while the hooked shape helps to keep the prey from escaping. The hooked bill also provides a strong grip that allows the bird to hold onto its prey while it tears off pieces.

The hooked bill is not exclusive to birds of prey, however. Some other bird species, such as pelicans and cormorants, also have hooked bills which they use to catch fish. For them, the hooked shape of the bill allows them to grab and hold onto slippery fish as they swallow them whole.


New World Vultures – Family Cathartidae

Black Vulture

Birds with hooked beaks

The Black Vulture is a large, coal black raptor with long, broad wings and a short and broad tail. The hooked beak of this bird species is long and dark, and has a pale tip.

This scavenger uses its hooked bill to pick at and tear into the hides of the dead animals it feeds on, and also uses its beak to cut and pick bits of flesh from a wide variety of carrion including dead mammals, fish, and poultry.

On occasion, the Black Vulture also eats small animals that it catches with its sharp hooked bill.

This species can be recognized by its large size, pale wingtips on broad wings held flat while soaring, its black head, and short, broad tail.


Eagles, Hawks, Kites – Family Accipitridae

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle is a huge raptor with a white head and tail, and a massive, hooked bill. The hooked beak of the adult Bald Eagle is bright yellow. In juvenile birds, the hooked bill is dark with some yellow at the base of the beak.

This big raptor uses its beak for biting into and killing ducks and other animals it preys on, and to cut open and pick flesh from the fish it catches. This big raptor also uses its hooked bill when it feeds on carrion, especially during the winter months.

With their white heads and tails, adult Bald Eagles are easy to recognize but juveniles can be tricker. Young Bald Eagles can be identified by their large size, dark plumage with some white mottling, and long wings held flat while soaring.


Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is a big, dark brown raptor with long broad wings, and a large, hooked beak. The strong, hooked bill of this eagle is dark gray with some yellow where the mouth meets the bill.

It has a sharp tip used for cutting and eating the meat of rabbits, ground squirrels, and a wide variety of other animals it feeds on, including foxes and other large prey. This powerful raptor usually kills animals with its sharp talons but can also dispatch prey with its hooked bill.

The Golden Eagle can be identified by its large size, dark brown plumage with a pale brown nape, and buff under the tail. Young birds have some white feathers, and a rather long tail with a white base. In flight, it holds its wings in a bit more of a “V” shape than the flat wings of the Bald Eagle.


Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

One of the more commonly seen birds with hooked beaks, the Red-tailed Hawk has a dark bill with a grayish base and a strong, long, hooked tip.

This large and hefty hawk is brown above and can be pale or brown below. The broad tail can be reddish or faintly barred, and the long, broad wings have a pale patch near the wingtips.

The Red-tailed Hawk uses its hooked bill to pick flesh from the animals it preys upon. Like most raptors, it uses sharp talons to kill prey but can also kill small animals with its hooked beak. Typical prey includes squirrels, rabbits, snakes, and some birds.

This species has a variety of plumages but adults can be identified by the reddish tail, and juveniles identified by their stocky appearance and broad wings with a large pale patch near the wingtips.


Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with reddish-orange on the underparts and on the shoulder of the wing, and a rather long, dark tail with narrow white bands.

It has a fairly small, sharply hooked black beak with some yellow on the base, and uses it to cut and eat the flesh of frogs, snakes, and other small animals.

In flight, the Red-shouldered Hawk can be identified by a pale crescent shape on the base of the primaries, orange on the underparts, and a dark tail with narrow white bands.


Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk is a medium to large, slender raptor with dark bands on a long tail, red-orange barring on the underparts, gray upperparts, and a blocky head with a sharp, hooked bill.

The hooked beak of the Cooper’s Hawk is black with a gray base, and has a long, sharp hooked tip. It uses this curved beak to bite and pick flesh from doves, other birds, and squirrels caught with its sharp talons.

The Cooper’s Hawk can be identified by its slender appearance, long tail with a rounded tip, rather rounded wings, and “blocky” head.


Harris’s Hawk

Harriss Hawk

The Harris’s Hawk is a fairly large, long-tailed hawk of arid habitats with dark, chocolate brown plumage. It has rufous highlights in the shoulder of the wing and on the thighs, and has a large, blackish and yellow, curved beak with a long, sharp tip.

This raptor uses its sharp, curved bill to bite and tear flesh from rabbits, quail, and other small animals that it feeds on. The Harris’s Hawk can be identified by its dark brown plumage with rufous in the wings and on the thighs, and the long black and white tail.


Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

The Mississippi Kite is a slender, falcon-like, pale gray raptor with long, pointed wings, and a long, rectangular tail.

It has a small, black, sharply hooked bill that it uses to bite and eat small lizards, dragonflies, and other insects. It often feeds on the wing and soars high over wooded swamps and forested river valleys.

The adult Mississippi Kite can be identified by its fairly uniform gray plumage, long pointed wings, and long tail. Young Mississippi Kites have the same shape as adults but have some mottling in the wings.




Merlin is a small powerhouse of a Falcon with narrow white bands on a dark, rectangular tail, and long pointed wings. This small falcon can be dark brown with heavily streaked plumage or gray above with dark brown markings on pale underparts.

It has a blocky head, a small, curved bill with a sharp, hooked tip, and a small, tooth-like notch. The Merlin preys on small birds, killing them by using its bill to bite and sever the spinal cord.

It also uses its bill to pick pieces of flesh from its prey and can be identified by its small, compact size, streaked underparts, and blackish tail with narrow white bands.


Owls – Family Strigidae

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

The Barred Owl is a large owl with dark eyes, a rounded head, and brown plumage with some white markings.

It has a narrow, long, yellowish, curved bill with a sharp tip to pick pieces of flesh from mice, squirrels, crayfish, and many other small animals.

This nocturnal species can be separated from other owls by its rounded head, dark eyes, and dark brown streaks.


Great-horned Owl

Great Horned Owl in the move

The Great-horned Owl is a big, hefty, and powerful owl with prominent “ear” tufts, yellow eyes, and mottled grayish-brown plumage.

It has a long, narrow, black, curved beak that it uses to pick flesh from a wide variety of prey items. This big owl catches and eats everything from mice to Yellow Warblers, herons, rabbits, skunks, and other animals.

The Great-horned Owl can be recognized by its large size, bulky appearance, ear tufts, and reddish face.


Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern screech owl

The Eastern Screech-Owl is a small owl with small “ear” tufts, and beautiful markings on its plumage. This species can be reddish, or mostly gray and brown, and has a pale, narrow, hooked bill.

The Eastern Screech-Owl uses its sharp hooked beak to tear flesh from mice, small birds, insects, and other small animals.

It is the only small owl species with ear tufts east of the Rocky Mountains, and is also recognized by its whistled, tremulous and “whinny”-like vocalizations.


Shrikes – Family Laniidae

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike is a pale gray bird with white patches, black wings and tail, and a prominent black mask. Smaller than an American Robin, this bull-headed bird has a rather stout, hooked bill with a long, sharp tip.

They use this hooked beak to kill small birds, lizards, insects, and other small animals. Loggerhead Shrikes have an interesting way of hunting – they sever their victim’s spinal cords.


Finches – Family Fringillidae

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

The Red Crossbill is a finch around the size of a large sparrow. The male is dull red with long, dark wings, and a rather short, slightly forked tail. The female has the same pattern but is yellow-olive instead of red.

Both sexes have a fairly large, grayish, curved beak with crossed tips. The Red Crossbill uses this unique hooked bill to extract seeds from the cones of spruce, pines, and other conifers. It can be identified by the unique shape of their bill and dark wings and tail.


Frigatebirds – Family Fregatidae

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

The Magnificent Frigatebird is a huge and slender seabird with very long, pointed wings and a long, forked tail.

The male is black with a red throat patch while females and young birds are black with some white on the upper part of the wings, and have a white breast with a white or black head.

This species has a long and slender, hooked beak with a small but sharp hooked tip. It uses this slender hooked bill to reach down and snatch fish and other foodwhile flying above the surface. The Magnificent Frigatebird can be identified by its large size and unique shape reminiscent of a pterodactyl.


Auks – Family Alcidae


Razorbll pair

© Ron Knight

Razorbill is a plump seabird with jet black upperparts and head, and snow-white underparts.

Around the size of a small duck, the Razorbill has a unique, deep and narrow, black, hooked bill with some grooves, a narrow white band on it, and a narrow white line that extends from the top of the bill to the eye. It uses its bill to catch Sand Eels and other small fish on dives beneath the surface of the ocean.

The Razorbill can be recognized by its black and white plumage and deep, black bill.


Frequently Asked Questions

Which bird has curved beak?

Various birds have a curved beak. Birds with curved bills include falcons, hawks, parrots, thrashers, and other species.

What bird has the strongest bill?

The Galapagos Large Ground Finch may have the strongest beak of any bird. Studies have shown that this small finch with a big beak, cracks open seeds and nuts with 70 newtons of force (320 times more powerful than a T-Rex!).

Do crows have hooked beaks?

Crows have strong beaks with a small hook at the tip.

Do eagles have hooked beaks?

Eagles have large and powerful, hooked beaks with a long, sharp tip.


Other Characteristics


About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert


Sunday 8th of October 2023

‘just saw a “ sparrow” looking small brown, with downy breast and slightly hooked beige colored beak in Central Kentucky. We have lived here four years and I’ve never seen one of these at our bird feeder before. Any thoughts folk?

Patrick O'Donnell

Monday 9th of October 2023

@Trish- Thank you for sharing your sighting. I wonder if it might be a female American Goldfinch? Without a picture, it's hard to say what it might be. If it comes back, if you can, please try to get a photo of it. We would love to see it!

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