Do birds have teeth? The answer to both is no. Some might argue that they saw birds with teeth on their bills. Then, there are birds like the Double-toothed Kite and Tooth-billed Hummingbird that sound like they have a set of teeth.
We will clear up all these misunderstandings and explain how birds don’t have teeth. The following sections will also discuss how some birds appear to have denticles, a list of bird species with teeth-like features, and more. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What Causes Birds Not to Have Teeth?
Teeth are made of different minerals, such as calcium. These sit in the jaw or mouth of many vertebrates and are designed to break down food. All vertebrates share the same general tooth structure, only varying in form and position. While avians are considered vertebrates, they do not have teeth. But why is this the case?
No pigeons and parrots have teeth, just like other birds. There are two reasons for this: dietary changes and birds don’t need them.
1. Dietary changes
Avian’s ancestors from millions of years ago used to have teeth. But evolution happened, and their teeth stopped growing altogether. It is a bit complicated to fully comprehend evolution and why it happened.
But one thing is for sure. It happened as an adaptation to their surroundings and available resources. Back then, theropod dinosaurs, which modern birds evolved from, feasted mainly on meat. Their sharp pointed teeth aided them in tearing and grinding their food.
Nowadays, birds don’t really need teeth, as their diet has changed to seeds, grains, fruits, vegetables, insects, and berries. Those who hunt for prey or feed on dead animals are equipped with strong, sharp claws and powerful beaks instead of teeth.
2. No need for teeth
In addition, birds have a unique digestive system designed to easily and quickly digest food. The gastroliths in their gizzards, along with swallowed gravels, play a significant role in the process.
Plus, functional denticles are relatively heavy. So while the added weight usually isn’t a problem for other animals, it can impact birds’ center of gravity and ability to fly.
Can Birds Grow Teeth?
While it is not true that all birds have teeth, there was a time when they could grow teeth. But because of evolution, teeth stopped growing naturally in birds.
However, in the last century, there was a recorded case of a mutant chicken that was discovered to have conic teeth. In the 19th century, a French naturalist noticed tiny teeth in several undeveloped parrots. These proved that modern birds still have their ancestor’s now recessive gene responsible for growing teeth.
Why Do Some Birds Appear to Have Teeth?
Have you seen a bird beak with teeth? Don’t get confused – they are not real teeth coated in enamel but rather are mandibles called tomia. These serrations are used to grip slippery fishes and cut through the hard surface of seeds.
Because tomia are not structurally the same as teeth, they are not classified as such. So if you’re wondering which bird has teeth in its beak, I’d like to point out that those serrations are technically not teeth.
So here is a list of some bird species that might trick you into believing they are birds that have teeth.
|Penguins||Fish, squid, krill|
|Geese||Orchard grass, cracked corn, wheat grains|
|Toucans||Fruits, berries, insects, rodents, lizards|
|Vultures||Carrion, lizard, rodents, small birds|
|Seagulls||Fish, earthworms, seeds, fruit, eggs|
|Hawks||Snake, fish, lizard, squirrel, mice, rabbits|
|Parakeets||Fruit, berries, larvae, insects, nectar|
|Cardinals||Berries, fruits, caterpillars, snails, spider|
Frequently Asked Questions
Do birds swallow their food whole?
Oftentimes, yes. But if the food is too big or too uncomfortable to gulp down in one go, birds will break it apart into smaller pieces with their beaks before tilting their head back to swallow. Other birds hold their food with their sharp talons and bash them against the rock.
Despite not having teeth, birds have tongues that play an important role in swallowing. Avian’s digestive process starts in their tongue, which is a part of the buccal cavity.
The tongue is in charge of controlling the food in the mouth and shoving it down the esophagus and into the crop. The food will then stay in the sublingual pouch, where it is softened down until it is ready to be digested.
How do birds chew their food?
Birds don’t have teeth, so they cannot chew their food. Instead, they just eat it up and swallow the food down in their throat. When the food reaches the mouth, some birds display a motion similar to chewing. But what’s really happening is their tongue manipulating the food before sending it down the food pipe.
Some birds, such as parrots, turkeys, chickens, crows, and pigeons, also eat rocks to aid their digestive system. These gravels are stored in the gizzard, where they act as denticles and help grind the food into smaller pieces.
The next time you hear the question, do birds have teeth or do eagles have teeth, you know how to answer and back it up with science. You can also explain why some birds seem to have teeth and give some examples of these species.
Do you know anyone curious whether crows have teeth? Then, they will surely appreciate you sharing this with them! If you have some information to add, you can always leave your thoughts in the comment section.
George and I became friends after a birdwatching trip with our new group. And we have been enjoying every adventure together. When he told me the idea of establishing a site that shares our experiences and fun, I immediately agreed. After trials and errors, here we have Thayerbirding.