Why do birds tend to have sharp beaks instead of a mouth full of teeth? The answer may have to do with the mechanics of flight.

Bird extinction and evolution expert, Dr. Helen James who curates the birds collection at the National Museum of Natural History, joined us to answer all our questions about the birds that once roamed our land and skies. In addition to telling us about extinct birds, she also revealed how some of the features we see on modern birds involved, including what evolutionary pressures gave birds their beaks:


I am endlessly fascinated by the evolution of beaks. I have trouble understanding the evolutionary pressures that would push dinosaurs with tons of pointy teeth to evolve beaks. I would much appreciate it if you could shed some light on this.

Helen James

Many of the adaptations of birds evolved for light weight, to enable flight. Teeth and the heavy bones and muscles that back them up might be a drawback to a flying creature. Having that weight in the skull rather than in the trunk, where birds' gizzards perform a similar function, is not an ideal distribution of weight for flight, either.

You can read James' whole Q&A, where she tells us about everything ranging from one of the more improbable evolutionary specimens she has come across to the probable taste of dodo meat, right here.

Image: Dryocopus Woodpecker / Lycoan