Different Types of Bird Tongue & Some Interesting Facts

Birds are fascinating creatures, but did you know what’s even more fascinating? Their tongues! Yes, you read that right.

Bird’s tongues have some truly distinctive features and characteristics.

Today we will be looking at some interesting facts related to bird tongue.

Bird Tongue Morphology

The tongue of a bird is near the lower beak. Their tongue falls under the ‘lingual apparatus’ category. Birds use their tongue for swallowing food.

Apart from this, they also use their tongue to communicate with other birds.

A bird’s tongue has extrinsic muscles that are responsible for the tongue’s positioning and placement.

You can find tactile receptors on the surface of a bird’s tongue. These receptors help them in locating and positioning food the right way before they can swallow it.

Different Types of Bird Tongues

Birds use their tongues to perform various functions in addition to consuming food with it.

Depending on the species, the purpose of a bird’s tongue can vary. Hence, not all birds have the same type of tongue. There are many variations present.

Let’s look at some of tongue types in detail and what function to the bird performs with it.

Grooved Tongue

Birds that feed on dead animal carcasses have this type of tongue.

Vultures and Eagles are known to have grooved tongues.

Vultures only get a small time frame to feed on a dead animal before moving and letting other vultures take their place.

Vultures have grooved tongue
Vultures have grooved tongue

This system allows birds to have a very limited amount of time to procure food. Hence, a vulture uses this time to store as much food as it can.

They have a special storage organ in their throat called the crop.

Vultures use their grooved tongue to push down as much food into the crop as possible in the given amount of time.

This grooved shape of their tongue also helps vultures get to the marrowy part of the bone easily and suck all the marrow out of it.

Muscular Tongue

This fleshy and muscular type of tongue is a very important characteristic of parrots.

Parrots use their tongues and not their beaks to hold onto small round smooth food materials like nuts and seeds.

Parrot tongue is muscular
Parrot tongue is muscular

Their tongue consists of very powerful muscles that allow them to grab onto food tightly.

Barbets and other frugivorous birds also have the same kind of tongue.

The small muscles in their tongue can contract to allow parrots to maneuver in different shapes and forms.

This makes it possible for parrots to produce and mimic sounds from humans and other animals.

Piston Like Tongue

This type of tongue is common in birds like flamingos and pigeons.

As interesting as the name sounds, this type of tongue offers great freedom to birds while drinking water.

These birds don’t need to tilt their necks like other birds while drinking water.

They have what is very much similar to having an in-built straw.

They use their tongue in a piston-like manner to create a pressure difference. The movement allows birds to suck in water inside their mouths naturally.

Being able to use their tongue this way, flamingos also filter out microplankton in water for consumption.

Sticky Tongues

This type of tongue is found in birds that use their tongues to attack their prey. Woodpecker is a great example of one such bird.

Woodpecker has a sticky tongue
Woodpecker has a sticky tongue

They use their sticky tongues to grab their prey like insects out of small spaces or holes.

Their prey gets stuck to their super sticky tongue plunged into the prey’s hiding place.

This sticky tongue also provides cushioning to woodpeckers using their sharp beaks to drill holes in a tree surface.

Nectarine Tongues

The nectarine tongue, as the name suggests, is used to suck the nectar out of flowers.

However, not all nectarine tongues look the same, and they vary from species to species.

Sunbirds have nectarine tongue
Sunbirds have nectarine tongue

A nectarine tongue of the Oriental White Eye is a very thin tongue with small brush-like projections at the tip of the tongue.

Oriental White Eye brushes up nectar from a flower’s surface.

Sunbirds have proper tubular-shaped tongues with branches to suck nectar from a flower properly.

Bones of the Tongue

Let’s learn a little about the bones in the bird’s tongue

Hyoid

A bird’s tongue has bones and cartilage that are responsible for controlling the movement of the tongue.

This falls under the ‘hyoid apparatus’ category. The hyoid is a significant part of the bird’s anatomy as it demonstrates the shape of the tongue.

Moreover, hyoid is also essential for controlling how much the tongue can expand or retract.

Paraglossum

The paraglossum is another type of bone within a bird’s tongue.

The paraglossum can either be found as a single bone or a combination of two bones joining together.

This bone is responsible for determining the type of tongue in a bird.

If the paraglossum in a bird’s tongue is fully developed, then the bird will have a thick and succulent-looking tongue.

On the other hand,  the tongue will be small in size if the bone is underdeveloped.

Epithelium

The epithelium is defined as the cell layer covering a bird’s tongue. The thickness of epithelium will vary from one bird species to another.

It is found that some birds have an epithelium that is rather stiff around the tip area or the sides of the tongue, resulting in a lingual nail.

This process of hardening of the epithelium is known as keratinization.

Lingual Nail

The lingual nail can be found in birds like ducks, swans, chickens, geese, etc.

The lingual nail may be hard on the surface, but it is flexible too.

The lingual nail can help stretch and use the tongue to pick up grains and small food items.

Papillae

Apart from lingual nails, papillae are also a keratinized procedure of the epithelium.

Papillae appear as tiny barb-like hairs on the surface of the tongue. They are used to These help birds keep food on their tongue.

Pappilaes can be varying in size and shape, from one species of bird to another. They are used to help with air swallowing.

Some famous birds of prey, like geese, quail, etc., are all birds that carry a papillae crest.

Their papillae are in a V-shape you can find in a backward pointed direction. The positioning makes it easier for these birds to swallow food and help prevent vomiting.

Salivary Glands

Salivary glands are most commonly found in the body of a bird’s tongue. These glands are responsible for producing saliva and mucus.

The salivary glands are also known to protect against harmful germs and bacteria.

In addition to this, salivary glands aid with food by softening hard or chewy food with the help of saliva.

Taste Buds

The tastebuds of a bird’s tongue are on the tongue’s roof, floor, and base area.

While human tongues have around 10,000 taste buds, birds have very few in comparison.

For instance, a parrot has around 400 taste buds, while a chicken only has 24.

Despite fewer taste buds, many birds can tell the difference between various tastes like sweet, salty, bitter, etc.

Color and Markings

Typically, most birds have a pinkish-red-colored tongue. In rare cases, some birds have black and blue-colored tongues.

The marking on their tongues can vary from one species to another.

Some birds have spots on their tongues; some have a band, while some birds have both.

Keep in mind that the markings on a bird’s tongue change with time as they grow.

Growth of the Tongue

The growth of a bird’s tongue is directly proportional to its size.

If the tongue is big in size, the growth is faster, whereas a small tongue has a slower growth. 

For example, a hummingbird’s tongue is known to grow quite rapidly, whereas birds like owls have their tongues growing at a really slow pace.

Bird Tongue Sizes

As discussed earlier, bird tongues can perform various functions.

Their tongues play a plethora of important and unique roles. It even frees birds from the need of having teeth as their tongues do most of the work.

Each bird performs a different function with its tongues.

Varying sizes of tongues gives the bird versatile functionality. Birds of different sizes have different sizes of tongues.

In addition to this, the size of a bird’s tongue is also dependent on the size of a bird’s beak and how they seek and consume food.

Long Bird Tongue

Northern Flicker is a species of woodpecker. You can find these birds across North America.

Northern Flicker enjoys the status of being the bird with the longest tongue. Their tongue measures up to 5 inches.

Just like a regular woodpecker, they use their long sticky tongue to stick out insects from tony holes and crevices in a tree. Their tongue can easily enter small spaces foraging for insects.

The hummingbird is another bird that falls under the category of birds with long tongues. They are nectar sucking birds, so their long tongue is tubular.

Short Bird Tongue

Birds that fall under this category are pelicans, cormorants, and emus.

The small tongue of these birds allows them to swallow big chunks of their food without tearing or grinding them.

Emus’s small tongue allows it to swallow small stones. This ability to swallow stones plays a very interesting role.

It allows Emus to use these stones to grind up their food like seeds, plants, and insects.

This is very much similar to the role of teeth in other animal species. Hence, the different sizes and shapes of tongues allow them to compensate for teeth.

Final Words

We hope you enjoyed reading about all these fascinating facts about bird tongues.

We shed light on all the interesting facts related to a bird’s tongue and what makes them so unique.

Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section with us if you have anything to add.

Stay tuned to this space for more interesting facts, stories, and valuable information on your favorite feathered friends.

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