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A Bird's Tongue

Most birds have tongues, though unlike ours. A bird's tongue has 5 bones in it that support and strengthen it, together they are called the 'Hyoid apparatus'.

There is also a great deal of variation in bird tongues. A bird's tongue is generally harder and less flexible than ours. Most birds have a relatively simple tongue, a flat triangular blade in shape with a few backwardly pointing papillae at the back of the mouth which help to ensure food only goes in one direction. In some birds however the tongue has become highly evolved. In some fish-eating birds such as Penguins the whole tongue is covered in backwardly pointing spikes which help in swallowing the fish. In other fish-eating birds such as Cormorants, the tongue has been almost completely reduced.

In Woodpeckers the tongue has become greatly elongated and is stored deep in the birds skull when not extended. Woodpeckers' tongues also have a sharp pointed top to spear wood-boring insect larvae. The end of the tongue has backwardly directed barbs to help in drawing the food items out of their holes in the wood.

Brush-tongued lories, as their name implies, have a tongue with a small brush at the tip. The brush is used to collect nectar form the various flowers which these birds visit. Other primarily nectar-feeding birds such as Hummingbirds, Sunbirds and Honeyeaters have evolved tubular tongues. These effectively give the bird a straw with which to suck up the nectar. 

Finally, in parrots the tongue has become thicker and more swollen - more like ours. This helps parrots to manipulate their food in their mouths, but it also makes it possible for them to make all the sounds that so endear them to us.
 
 

Most information on this page was contributed by EarthLife.

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Last updated: 24 November 2002