Thursday, 23 February 2012

As I was saying...

My, how time flies when you are not having fun.  Now...where was I? 

Oh yes - rhynchokinesis - otherwise known as handy-bendy-beak syndrome.  I have touched on this interesting curiosity before but what brought it back to mind was a couple of black tailed godwits feeding in the flooded fields on Holy Island the other day.  The effect was not at all visible when watching the birds but a millisecond caught in a megapixel just happened to give a hint of it.

I came across a much better picture than mine here. (Steve Gale at North Downs and Beyond talks about blog envy - I know the feeling).

Many people assume that all birds beaks are solid, hard structures. Far from it - particularly in the longer billed waders like the godwits, curlew and snipe. Next time you find a dead one of these, I recommend that you explore this.  If it's a bit stinky by the time you come across it, this will be when you realise that all that time spent carrying a pair of surgical gloves in your pocket was not wasted. The bill tip is not only softish and flexible but well supplied with sensory bits and pieces. (For more on this - see my earlier post here)

The New Naturalist book 'Waders' explains that the upper mandible can be raised or lowered independently of the rest of the bill.  Thus you can have the tips only apart or the tips together with an open gap in the centre.  Certainly, having a 'hinge' towards the tip of a long bill must give much better dexterity when picking up small prey items. 

If you don't already carry a pair of surgical gloves at all times, rush out and get some.


  1. I have 2 pairs of surgical gloves in the car...does that count? In my first aid kit I hasten to add...
    Fascinating post which sent me scurrying to Google where I discovered that swifts can do it too. Hmm
    The other day I watched a gang of curlews carefully cleaning their bendy bent bills :-)
    Good to see you again!

  2. Delighted that you've come out of hibernation Nyctalus! Fascinating post ....... birds' beaks are amazingly varied and versatile, aren't they!

  3. Hi Mel, yes back again. You've been a bit quiet yourself on the blog front recently...
    I didn't realise that swifts could do this also. I can see the benefits for waders but I'm not clear why it should be a useful adaption for swifts. I always assumed that they just fly about with their mouths open and net whatever they blunder into. Maybe it's more sophisticated than that...

  4. Just about to post a blog or 2!
    I'm just about getting to grips with proximal and distal rhynchokinesis at the moment :-) so no idea about swifts (viz. non-wader). Wikipedia's entry doesn't help much! "It is hypothesized that the schizorhinal skull in proximally rhynchokinetic birds reflects ancestry, but has no adaptive explanation, in many living species"

  5. Thank you for that gobbledegook Mel. I also note that Rod Hull's Emu frequently displayed rhynchokinesis.

  6. Hi Phil. Nyctalus by name; Nyctalus by nature! Or is it just old age creeping on?
    I feel a bird beak theme coming on here...