Bird Tongue Facts We Bet You Don’t Already Know!

Have you ever wondered what a bird tongue is like? Is it long enough for them to lick their beaks clean? What color is it? How different is a bird’s tongue from a human’s?

If you want to know the answers to these questions then you’re in the right place. 

Read on to find out everything you need to know about how the tongue of our favorite feathered friends works. 

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Bird Tongue Morphology

A bird uses its tongue to help them with food intake, swallowing and communicating with other birds. 

A birds tongue is part of the “lingual apparatus” and is located in the floor of the lower beak.

The tongues’ extrinsic muscles anchor the tongue and allow it to change position. 

Bird tongues have tactile receptors that help it to identify and position food before swallowing.  


Bones of the Tongue

The tongue is made up of bones and cartilage which control its movements, this is known as the hyoid apparatus. 

The hyoid is important because not only does it help define the shape of the tongue but it also controls its movement and ability to extend and retract. 

The paraglossum is embedded in the tongue and can either be an unpaired bone or two bones fused together. 

This bone determines what the tongue type is like, If it’s well developed then the tongue will be thick and fleshy. If it’s mostly comprised of cartilage then the tongue will be small.


Epithelium

This is the layer of cells that covers the birds tongue. Its thickness depends on the species of bird. 

In some birds, such as ducks and geese the epithelium hardens near the tip or the side of the tongue to create the lingual nail. This hardening effect is known as keratinization. 


Lingual Nail

This is found in the tip of the tongue of ducks, geese, swans, parrots, the White-Tailed Eagle, and chickens. 

The keratinized epithelium is still flexible enough so that it can be stretched and is used by these birds as a spoon to help them lift grain. 


Papillae

The papillae are another keratinized process of the epithelium and are the hair or barb like structures found on the tongue. 

These help birds keep food on their tongue. The papillae are usually rear-facing to help air swallowing. 

The papillaes shape and size varies depending on the species of bird.

Geese, quail and birds of prey are amongst some of the types of birds that have a papillae crest. This is the V-shaped row of papillae that point backwards and aid food movement and help prevent regurgitation. 


Salivary Glands

These are usually found in the root and body of the tongue and they produce saliva and mucus. 

These are important because they help act as a barrier to germs and bacteria. They also help moisten the food before it’s swallowed. 


Taste Buds

A birds taste buds are found in the roof, floor, and base of the tongue. 

Birds have significantly fewer taste buds than humans.

We have over 10,000 while a parrot has around 400 and a chicken has just 24. 

Even though birds don’t have all that many taste buds they are able to differentiate between a variety of tastes, such as sweet, salt, brine, bitter, fats and sugars. 


Color and Markings

The color and markings on a birds tongue can vary depending on the species. Some have spots, a band or both. These can also change as baby birds develop in to adults. 

The baby Locust Finch’s tongue has red spots on it while the tongue of the baby Grey-Headed Silverbills have two black spots and a band near the tip. 

Information on the color of adult bird tongues is limited, although some are said to be pink, black, blue and some have spots and bands. 


Growth of the Tongue

The bigger the tongue then the faster the growth tends to be. 

For instance, the tongue of a hummingbird grows at an alarmingly fast rate, white birds that have a shorter adult tongue, such as owls have tongues that grow at a much slower rate. 


Bird Tongue Types

Birds don’t all have the same type of tongue, instead there is a broad variation of tongue shape, size and functions depending on their species. 


Muscular Tongue

This tongue type is found in parrots and is useful for holding onto seeds and nuts. The dexterity also plays a part in helping parrots to mimic sounds. 


Grooved Tongue

You’ll find this tongue type in vultures, as the grooved shape comes in handy to suck out the bone marrow from broken bones.

The law of vultures means that they only have a limited time to grab as much food as they can from the carcass. 

The grooved shape also helps vulture to push the food into their throats as quickly as possible. 


Piston Like Tongue

Birds, flamingos and pigeons drink differently to other types of birds, as they don’t tilt their heads back when they’re drinking.

They do this because their tongue acts like a piston and it pushes water into their mouths. 


Sticky Tongues

Sticky barbed tongues can be found in woodpeckers and other types of birds that grab their prey out of holes and crevices. 

When they stick their tongue in the hole it acts like glue and insects stick to it. 

Woodpeckers also use their tongue as a cushion to protect themselves when they use their beaks to peck beneath the tree surface. 


Nectarine Tongues

These are found in birds who feed on nectar but they vary depending on the species. 

The Oriental White Eye has a thin tongue with a brush-like tip so it can be dabbed on the flowers to absorb the nectar. 

Sunbirds have long, tubular tongues, with 2-3 branches at the tip to help them suck up the nectar. 


Thermoregulation

This is the process of maintaining core body temperature. 

Lots of birds use their tongues to help regulate their temperature which is why it’s common to see a bird perched with their mouth open. 

They expose their tongues to the cool air to help them keep a healthy internal body temperature. 


Relationship of Diet to a Birds Tongue

A birds tongue shape and size is so variable between species, as each one has their own unique way of eating. 

If a bird eats grubs and insects then they will either have sticky tongues to trap them or have small barbs or hooks on the tongue tip to impale them on. 

Fish eating birds such as pelicans have smaller tongues so that they don’t get in the way when they’re guzzling down fish whole. 

The simple, triangular tongues found in birds of prey fit perfectly within their beaks. 


Bird Tongue Sizes 

Birds don’t have teeth so their tongue serves as an extra important function for them. Then again, they don’t need teeth when their tongues are so effective. 

The size of a birds tongue is dependant on the size of the bird, their beak and how they tend to eat. 


Long Bird Tongue

The bird with the longest tongue is the Northern Flicker, which is a species of woodpecker that is commonly found in North America. 

This medium-sized bird boasts an impressive 5-inch long tongue. They use their tongue to lick insects out of tree holes and cavities. 

Some nectar drinking birds such as the hummingbird have long tubular tongues so that they can easily suck up nectar. 


Short Bird Tongue

Birds with short tongues are usually species that have a tendency to swallow their food whole, such as pelicans and cormorants. 

Emus also have small tongues which allows them to easily swallow small stones which help grind up their diet of seeds, plants and insects. 


FAQs: The Short Answers

Do you still have loads of questions about bird tongues? Don’t worry, as below I give the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. 


Question 1- Which Bird Has no Tongue?

All birds have a tongue of somesort, although these vary dramatically in shape and size. 


Question 2- Does a Crow Have a Tongue?

A crow, like all birds, does indeed have a tongue. It’s believed that if you split a crows tongue then this would enable them to talk…ouch!


Question 3- Do All Animals Have a Tongue?

Most amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and birds have tongues, as they use them frequently while eating and talking.

Some crustaceans and echinoderms such don’t have a tongue. Sea Stars suck in their food through their stomach. 


Question 4- Do Any Bird Species Have Teeth?

Birds don’t have a need for teeth like we do, as their tongues are just so good. 

However, some birds such as the Greylag Goose do have tooth-like serrations along the edges of their beaks. These are called tomia and help them to grip food. 

Other birds that have serration on their beaks are falcons, ducks and geese. 


Question 5- What’s a Penguins Tongue Like?

When we think of penguins we think of gentle, waddling creatures that mate for life and like snowier climates. 

As gentle as they may appear, inside of their mouths is a very different story. 

Because penguins swallow their food alive they need a way to hold onto it, which is where their sharp serrations come in handy.

They have them on their tongues and in their beaks and cheeks.

Penguins have spiny tongues which keeps their food moving along. 


Question 6- Do Birds Tongues have bones in them? 

Yes, they have 5 bones that strengthen and support it. These bones are known as the “hyoid apparatus.” 

The bones in their tongues are: paraglossals, basihyale, urohyale, ceratobranchiate and epibranchiate. 


Question 7: Can Birds Lick Their Beaks With Their Tongues?

Most birds don’t lick their beaks but some of them do clean the inside of their mouths with their tongue

Some parrots and lovebirds may also lick their owners fingers in an attempt to get their attention. 

Birds such as parrots don’t like to be messy, so they clean their beaks against branches and surfaces to rub away any leftover food. 


Question 8: How Different are Bird Tongues to Humans?

Humans use their tongues for chewing, swallowing and speech. Our tongue is the only muscle in the body to be connected by just one bone.

Bird tongues are generally far tougher and harder than human tongues. They also have 5 bones in their tongue.

While we have 10,000 taste buds birds don’t usually have more than a couple of hundred, with pigeons having just 40.  

Parrots use have intrinsic tongue movements to create vowel-like sounds like we do. Parrots manipulate their tongues to mimic the sounds we make. 


Question 9: Which Animal Has the Most Taste Buds?

Catfish can have up to a whopping 175,000 taste buds. They have taste buds all over their body, with the most being in their four whiskers they have around their mouths. 


An Overview of Bird Tongues

From long, short, sticky, sharp and tubular, birds tongues really do come in a variety of shapes and sizes. 

Birds are unique creatures and they have extraordinary tongues that have adapted to work to their specific diet and needs. 

I hope that you now know everything you need to know about bird tongues, so the next time someone asks you how many taste buds a pigeon has you can jump straight in with the answer. 

Bye for now and thanks for reading.