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Birds With Long Bills

Birds with long bills

Today we’re going to dive into the fascinating world of birds with long bills.

These unique creatures come in all shapes and sizes, from the majestic pelican to the tiny hummingbird. One might ask that hummingbirds are small? Yes, they are, but if you compare their bill with their body length, hen they have enormous bills!

Bird with long bills have adapted their bills to suit their specific needs, whether it’s foraging for food, attracting a mate, or defending their territory.

These birds are not only beautiful to look at, but they play an important role in our ecosystem. They help pollinate plants, control insect populations, and even distribute seeds.


Why Do Birds Have Long Bills?

Birds have long bills for various reasons, including:

  • Feeding: A long bill can help birds reach food that is deep inside flowers, crevices, or other hard-to-reach places.
  • Foraging: Different species of birds have bills of different shapes and lengths that allow them to specialize in certain food types, such as nectar, seeds, insects, or fish.
  • Species recognition: The shape and length of a bird’s bill can be an important characteristic for identifying different bird species.
  • Mating: For some birds, the bill size and shape can play a role in attracting mates or establishing dominance among members of a flock.


Some examples of birds with long bills include:

  • Hummingbirds: They have long, slender bills to reach nectar in flowers.
  • Toucans: Their large, colorful bills are used to reach fruit in the trees.
  • Pelicans: Their bills can be several inches long and are used to scoop up fish from the water.
  • Flamingos: They have long, thin bills that they use to filter food from mud and water.
  • Storks: Their bills can be up to 18 inches long, which they use to hunt for fish and other prey.

These are just a few examples, as there are many bird species with long bills adapted to their specific needs and habitats.


In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most interesting birds with long bills, their characteristics, habitats, and behaviors.

So, grab your binoculars and get ready to explore the world of birds with long bills. Whether you’re a seasoned bird watcher or just starting out, there’s plenty to discover and appreciate about these amazing creatures. Let’s get started!


Pelicans – Family Pelecanidae

American White Pelican

Biggest Birds in the world

American White Pelicans are huge white birds that mostly breed in wetlands of the western and central Canada and the USA. They also migrate to big marshes, lakes, and coastal lagoons from California and the southern USA to Central America.

They have black flight feathers on their long, broad wings, a short tail, and webbed feet. However, the most prominent feature of these massive birds is their huge, pouched beak.

American White Pelicans use their long orange or yellow bill to scoop up carp and lots of other fish in shallow wetlands.

They catch fish by foraging in big flocks that float on the surface of lakes, marshes, and shallow coastal waters. The birds watch for fish activity and then swim over and dip their beak into the water to catch their slippery prey.

Often, flocks of pelicans end up herding schools of fish into shallow water where they can more easily catch them.


Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican is known for its long bill

Brown Pelicans are big seabirds with grayish and brown bodies, a brown and white neck, and a pale head. They often show some blond coloration on their head, and have a long reddish beak with a big dark brown pouch.

Young brown pelicans are dark gray-brown with pale bellies.

We see Brown Pelicans along beaches and other coastal habitats from the state of Washington and New Jersey south to Ecuador and Venezuela. These big seabirds use their massive beaks to scoop up all sorts of fish. However, unlike the American White Pelican, they catch their food after spectacular dives.

As Brown Pelicans slowly flap and soar over coastal waters, they are actually keeping an eye out for fish. When they spot one close enough to the surface, the bird hovers in place for a moment before folding its wings and diving headfirst into the water!

After diving, the pelican opens its beak wide to catch the fish.


Ibises and Spoonbills – Family Threskiornithidae

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbills are large wading birds with beautiful pink and white plumage. Adults are white with pale pink on their wings and belly, and dark pink on the shoulders and rump. They also have a short orange tail, and long, pinkish legs.

Their naked heads are pale green and black, and they have a remarkable, long beak with a flat, spoon-shaped tip! Young Roseate Spoonbills are mostly white with only a bit of pale pink, but they still have that same unique bill.

In North America, spoonbills occur in Florida and Texas but can appear in various other places. It also lives in the Caribbean and Mexico, south to Argentina.

Roseate Spoonbills use their unique beaks to catch crustaceans, insects, and other small aquatic creatures. They forage by wading in shallow water and sweeping their beak back and forth below the surface. When their bill touches an animal in or near the bottom, it snaps shut.


Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

The Glossy Ibis is a medium-sized, dark maroon wading bird with dark glossy green colors on its wings and back. It has a narrow white border on the bare skin of its face, dark eyes, and long, grayish legs.

This species also has a long, downcurved, brownish beak. Juveniles and winter adults don’t have as much maroon coloration and have some pale streaking on their heads.

The Glossy Ibis flies with its neck outstretched while gliding and rapidly beating its wings. In North America, we see this handsome bird in marshes on the eastern coast of the USA. It also occurs in the Caribbean, parts of Central and northern South America, in parts of Eurasia, much of Africa, and Australia.

The Glossy Ibis uses its long beak to probe into muddy spots. When it touches an insect, crustacean, or other small creature, it snatches it with the tip of its beak.


Egrets and Herons – Family Ardeidae

Great Egret

Great Egret

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

The Great Egret is a big white heron with a long neck, sharp yellowish beak, and long dark legs. In breeding season, they also have fine plumes on their back and a bit of green near their eyes.

This big wading bird flies with deep slow wingbeats and soars with its neck tucked in.

Great Egrets use their long, dagger-like beak to catch fish, insects, crustaceans, frogs, small snakes, and other small animals. They can even catch and eat small birds and rodents!

This big white bird forages by standing in or near shallow water and patiently waiting for an unlucky animal to come into view. The Great Egret quickly strikes out and stabs or snatches the animal with its sharp beak.

We see these stately birds in marshes and other wetlands in parts of southeastern Canada, and many parts of the USA. They also occur in many other parts of the world.


Tricolored Heron

A Tricolored Heron mid-flight

Tricolored Herons are beautiful, medium-sized wading birds with a long, spear-like beak. Adults are dark blue-gray birds with a white belly and wing linings. They have gray-green legs, a chestnut line on the front of their neck, and some maroon highlights on their wings and back.

In the breeding season, Tricolored Herons also have a few pale plumes on their head and some pale plumes on their back. Instead of blue-gray plumage, juveniles have chestnut coloration.

We see this elegant bird in costal marshes from Massachusetts to Florida and Texas. Once in a while, they also occur in California and other places north of their usual range. This species also range south to Ecuador and northern Brazil.

Tricolored Herons use their long beak to stab out and catch small fish in shallow coastal waters. They forage by actively wading in the water and sometimes chasing fish around to catch them.


Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is a big wading bird with a sharp, fairly long and hefty beak. They can stand as tall as 4.5 feet, have a white face, dark cap, pale belly with black sides, and rufous thighs. These big wading birds also have a slate gray tail, back, and wings with black flight feathers.

In the breeding season, Great Blue Herons have some plumes on their head and back, and brown necks. In fall and winter, they lack those plumes and have a gray neck.

This big heron flies with its neck tucked in and makes deep, slow flaps. They use their strong yellowish beak to snatch fish and small animals.

Great Blue Herons forage by waiting in or at the edge of water and quickly stabbing with their beak to catch prey.

We see this bird in various wetland habitats in large parts of Canada, throughout the lower 48 states, and south to Panama.


Sandpipers – Family Scolopacidae

Stilt Sandpiper


The Stilt Sandpiper is a smallish shorebird with long yellowish legs and a fairly long, slightly downcurved beak. In breeding plumage, they have chestnut on their crown and face, fine dark streaking on their neck, and black barring on their underparts.

This sandpiper also has black and white upperparts, a white rump, and a short dark tail. In fall migration and winter, Stilt Sandpipers have a gray back and wings, gray crown, and white underparts with small gray markings on their neck and chest.

This sandpiper species breeds in wet tundra meadows in northern Alaska and parts of northern Canada. It migrates through central and eastern North America to winter in coastal Texas and Florida south to Argentina.

Stilt Sandpipers use their long beak to pick small insects from the surface of lagoons, shallow ponds, and marshes. They also submerge their head to probe for small creatures in soft mud.


Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

The Long-billed Curlew is a big sandpiper species with a very long, downcurved beak. It has tawny plumage with mottled and barred back and wings, and fine dark markings on its head and neck. This species also has a pale eyering and long gray legs.

Long-billed Curlews breed in grassland habitats in parts of western Canada, and the western USA east to Nebraska. In winter, we can see them in coastal lagoons and marshes from California and the Carolinas south to Panama.

This magnificent bird uses its long beak with a pinkish base to catch grasshoppers, other insects, and other small creatures in grasslands. It also catches and eats other small animals, including eggs and nestlings of birds like the Horned Lark!

In winter, the Long-billed Curlew uses its long beak to probe deep into mud on tidal flats to feel for and snatch crabs, shrimp, and other small aquatic creatures.


Stilts – Family Recurvirostridae

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilts are smallish, slender, black and white wading birds with very long pink legs, and a long, needle-like beak. They are jet black above and white below but have a white patch above each of their reddish eyes. These birds also have a white lower back, rump, and tail.

This species is a noisy bird that occurs in flocks. We usually see them standing in or next to shallow water but they can also take flight. When flying, their long legs trail behind as they make strong, deep flaps.

They use their long, needle-like beak to pick small insects, brine shrimp, and other small aquatic creatures from the surface and beneath the water. They can forage day and night and feed by walking through shallow water while watching for prey.

Black-necked Stilts breed in shallow marshes in various parts of the western USA and in coastal areas from the Carolinas south to Argentina and Chile.


American Avocet

American Avocets

The American Avocet is a medium-sized, slender shorebird with a slim, upturned beak. They also have long, gray legs, black and white wings and back, and a white belly, rump, and tail.

During the breeding season, both sexes have a peach-colored neck and head with a bit of white on their face. In fall and winter, they have pale gray on their neck and head.

These elegant birds feed on brine flies, beetles, and lots of other small aquatic insects and creatures. They catch these tiny animals by moving their upturned, slim beaks back and forth, on the surface of the water. However, they can also directly pick insects and other creatures from the top of the water as well as beneath the surface.

We see American Avocets in shallow salt ponds, alkaline marshes, and tidal waters in south-central Canada, many parts of the western USA, and in coastal habitats from Virginia to Central America.


Other Characteristics: Long legsHooked beaks | Pointed bills

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.

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