A topic that crops up in conversation every now and then is ‘when does a bird have a beak and when is it more apt to call it a bill?’ One would think it is clear: a Village Weaver has a beak and a Spoonbill obviously has a bill! What is the distinction then?

I can no longer recall from where I noted this information, but according to this source beak is the general term applicable to all birds, although it usually refers to raptors, and when striking or pecking is in question. The terms beak and bill are often used interchangeably for crows, finches, and sparrows. Bill on the other hand is almost exclusively used for sunbirds, pigeons, waders, and web-footed birds. There does not appear to be an official difference and it seems that these terms are synonymous; their use might according to personal preference.

Trevor Carnaby in his very useful book, Beating about the bush: Birds, describes a variety of shapes of beaks that are adapted according to the feeding requirements of the different species of birds. There is an interesting discussion on this topic at

What do you think?

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Secretary Bird



Cape Weaver

Red-necked Spurfowl

Egyptian Goose


12 thoughts on “BEAKS VS BILLS

  1. Perhaps its just because English is my second language and I might not be as attuned to the finer nuances of the language as I ought to be, but I thought, and use, “bill” and “beak” is absolute, interchangeable, synonyms. What matters most is that I loved your beautiful illustrations of the various shapes and sizes of bills and beaks either way, Anne!


    • Thank you: we do tend to use the terms interchangeably, it is only when someone actually asks what the difference is that we are caught short for an explanation – there is none 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting topic! The bird app I use most is Roberts and they use “bill” almost exclusively,
    from Waxbills to Pelicans, but that’s not to say “beak” is wrong as that is the term we probably all grew up with


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