When Mother Nature decides to specialize an animal, she sure does it with style! These birds have some of the most amazing beaks and bills in the avian kingdom. Whether flashy or functional, they all have flare.

Rhinoceros hornbill

rhinocerous hornbill on perch

Photo: Shutterstock

The Rhinocerous hornbill has a name as impressive as its unbelievable bill. Atop its bill is a feature called a casque, which has a striking upward curve like a rhino horn, hence the bird's common name. The strong bill is used for reaching fruit from thin tree branches, and that impressive casque is used as a resonating chamber to amplify their loud calls.

rhinocerous hornbill profile

Photo: Shutterstock

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Red crossbill

red crossbill

Photo: iStockphoto

The red crossbill sports a bill that would be viewed as a deformity in most other finch species. But for this species, it is the perfect way to get at its primary food source, the seeds held within pinecones. Even tightly closed cones can be accessed thanks to the unusual shape of its bill. The bird places the tips of the bill under a cone scale and bites down, which pushes the scale up and exposes the seed.

red crossbill juvenile

Photo: iStockphoto

red crossbill up close

Photo: iStockphoto

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Black skimmer

black skimmer beak

Photo: myFWCmedia/Flickr

The black skimmer has a truly unique bill among shorebirds, and really, among all North American birds. The bill is large yet very thin, and the lower mandible extends out father than the upper mandible. These features make it ideal for how this bird catches food. As it flies, it dips the lower mandible into the water, skimming for fish. The razor-thin bill can slice through the water and, when it senses a fish, snaps the upper mandible down onto it. The skimmer is the only bird species in North and South America with such a foraging technique.

black skimmer flock

Photo: nophun201/Flickr

black skimmer skimming

Photo: Dan Pancamo/Flickr

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Roseate spoonbill

roseate spoonbill

Photo: Steve Snodgrass/Flickr

Three guesses for how this bird got its common name. The roseate spoonbill is one of several species of spoonbill, all of which sport this uniquely shaped bill. It feeds in shallow fresh and coastal waters; walking while moving the bill from side to side, it uses its beak to strain small food items from water such as crustaceans, aquatic insects and small fish.

spoonbill near water

Photo: Andrea Westmorland/Flickr

spoonbills in water

Photo: USFWS Headquarters/Flickr

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spoonbill profile photo

Photo: Pavan-M/Flickr

Like the spoonbill, the shoebill's name has a rather obvious source. This stork-like bird has a bill shaped like a large shoe, and is, of course, the bird's most notable feature. The sharp edges of the mandibles help the bird kill its fishy prey and also discard vegetation caught along with its prey. It also has a sharp hook at the tip, making it possible for the bird to grip, crush, and pierce prey all at once. In other words, this bird is as tough as it looks.

shoebill profile

Photo: Michael Gwyther-Jones/Flickr

shoebill standing up

Photo: warriorwoman531/Flickr

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Long-billed curlew

long-billed curlew in water

Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

The long-billed curlew is a North American shorebird that spends winters on the coast and breeds in grasslands. Its long bill is adapted for both places, catching shrimp and crabs living in deep burrows in tidal mudflats, and also snatching up earthworms in pastures. The bill is one of the longest of any shorebird, rivaling that of the far eastern curlew. The female has a longer bill than the male, and hers has a slightly different shape. While the male's bill curves along its entire length, hers is slightly flatter on top with a more pronounced curve at the tip.

long-billed curlew feeding

Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

long-billed curlew with food

Photo: Ken Corregan/Flickr

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Sword-billed hummingbird

sword-billed hummingbird in flight

Photo: Shutterstock

The sword-billed hummingbird has the longest beack relative to its body size of any bird in the world. In fact, it is the only bird that sometimes has a bill longer than its body. The bill is so long, the hummingbird must groom itself with its feet. It also has to perch with its head tilted at an upward angle to be able to balance. But the upside is it can feed on flowers with particularly long corollas, reaching nectar that is unavailable to other hummingbird species.

sword-billed hummingbird on perch

Photo: Shutterstock

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Great hornbill

great hornbill profile

Photo: Shutterstock

The great hornbill is another bird with a particularly impressive bill. This is one of the larger species along with the rhinocerous hornbill. It sports a bright yellow and black casque on top of its already enormous bill. Though it seems to serve no purpose, the hollow casque may be used for sexual selection. And interestingly, the males of the species have been seen head-butting each other with their casques while in flight.

great hornbil in flight

Photo: Shutterstock

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Toco toucan

tocu toucans

Photo: Michael Gwyther-Jones/Flickr

We could never leave out the toco toucan from this list. Its amazing bill accounts for between 30-50 percent of its entire body surface area. Good for reaching things that would otherwise be too far away, it is suggested that the toucan's bill is also good for peeling skin from fruit, intimidating other birds, and scaring off predators. However, scaring them is all it could really do. The bill is made of a honeycomb of keratin, so it is not particulary heavy nor strong. But that structure also helps it regulate body temperature. Recent research has suggested that by adjusting blood flow to the bill, toucans can release more body heat and stay cool.

toucan profile

Photo: wwarby/Flickr

toucan hiding

Photo: Martin Pettitt/Flickr

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Keel-billed toucan

keel-billed toucan on perch

Photo: Grand Velas Riviera Maya/Flickr

Another species of toucan with a particularly amazing bill is the keel-billed toucan. It has the same functions as the bill of the toco toucan, but adds some rainbow colors in splashy patterns. That's how it gets its alternate name, the rainbow-billed toucan.

keel-billed toucan with food

Photo: Brian Gratwicke/Flickr

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American white pelican

american white pelican profile

Photo: iStockphoto

Who wouldn't love their mouth to double as a purse?! Pelicans have truly amazing bills, with a pouch of skin, called a throat sac, connected to the lower mandible to act as a net, catching fish and filtering out the water. What's interesting about the American white pelican, shown here, is that during breeding season it makes its bill extra flashy. These pelicans grow a "horn" on the upper bill, which is shed after they lay their eggs. This is the only pelican species to grow such a horn.

american white pelican feeding

Photo: iStockphoto

pelicans with crests on bills

Photo: Kolin Toney/Flickr

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Photo: Robert Claypool/Flickr

The greater flamingo has one of the most recognized profiles around. But we don't often stop to celebrate that unbelievable beak. It is specialized to be used upside-down, and has a hairy filter-like structure called lamellae lining the mandibles that help separate food from mud and water before expelling the liquid.

flamingos feeding

Photo: apdk/Flickr

flamingo kiss

Photo: jinterwas/Flickr

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kiwi bird up close

Photo: iStockphoto

The kiwi is the only bird to have its nostrils at the tip of its beak. Other birds have the nostrils higher up, usually near the base by its face. But not the kiwi. It has the second largest olfactory bulk relative to the size of its forebrain (the condor having the largest), meaning it has an exceptional sense of smell. It uses this sense of smell and these specially placed nostrils to locate food in leaf litter.

kiwi foraging at night

Photo: Shutterstock

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Atlantic puffins

puffin profile

Photo: deischi/Flickr

Flashy red and black stripes on its beak is the source of this bird's nicknames: "clown of the sea" and "sea parrot." But the bold color pattern on the beak of the Atlantic puffin is onely the beginning of what makes this beak so special. There are serrations on the upper mandible, so the puffin can carry more than 10 fish at once by holding them with its tongue against these serrations.

puffin from front

Photo: Darrel Birkett/Flickr

puffin with fish

Photo: ohefin/Flickr

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American avocet

american avocet

Photo: Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

The American avocet has an elegant, delicate appearance that extends all the way to its long, amazingly thin, and slightly up-curved bill. It swishes its bill from side to side through shallow water, looking for crustaceans and insects. Though it looks too delicate to be believed, the bird uses its bill for feeding and will aggressively attack predators like Northern harriers and ravens.

avocet sitting

Photo: Mike Baird/Flickr

avocets splashing

Photo: Madrones/Flickr

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

15 birds with unbelievable beaks
These birds have some of the most flashy and specialized beaks around.