Hookbills, hardbills, softbills & waxbills – just the feathered factoids

Hookbills, hardbills, softbills & waxbills – just the feathered factoids

Caged bird keepers know that bills are not something you pay, it’s thing on the front of your birds face.

Birds Unlimited posted a comment in last week’s blog about light and vitamin deficiencies. The incriminating statement I made was. “Finches are softbill birds & not able to crack the husks of seeds larger birds or “hookbills” never giving it a second thought having always lumped finches with softbills in the same category – which is incorrect I’ve come to find. Let’s do some fact checking, shall we? 

Red browned finch in australia

red browned finch – a waxbill bird

Feathered factoid: The National Finch and Softbill Society website is an excellent resource to learn about finches and softbills found here

This is me manning up Birds Unlimited. Let’s talk about beaks and bills. If you want to learn more about the makeup of your birds beak read my blog post about it here. you’ll see examples of beaks from the wild bird, seabird, raptor and fishing bird species. If you want to know why your bird likes it’s beak touched read this blog post

Today we’re going to talk about hookbills, hardbills, softbills & waxbills. The difference being their structure. Parrots are hookbills. On the front of their face they have basically two pairs of opposing razor blades that they can use with enormous dexterity,accuracy and strength. I like to call them flying bolt cutters. 

Rose crowned Fruit Dove a hardbill bird

rose crown fruit dove – a hardbill bird

From Wikipedia we learn:

The proper use of the term (softbill) is in reference to the ‘soft food’ diets which typically fall into the following six categories:

  • Carnivorous – those who feed on small mammals, birds or other vertebrates (e.g., Kingfishers, Rollers)

  • Insectivorous – those who feed on insects and other invertebrates (e.g., Bee-eaters, Fly-catchers)

  • Omnivorous – those who feed on both animal and plant material (e.g., Corvids, Hornbills)

  • Frugivorous – those who feed on fruit (e.g., Turacos, Fruit Doves)

  • Nectarivorous – those who feed on flower nectar (e.g., Hummingbirds, Sunbirds)

  • Folivorous – those who feed on leaves, petals and other plant material (Turacos, Mousebirds)

This sixth diet type is usually in association with one of the above, as very few birds are solely folivorous. Several species of Galliformes (birds that eat off the ground like turkeys and quails) are frolivores, however they are not considered to be Softbills.

A more recent definition by Clive Roots is, “Cage and aviary birds with relatively soft bills, which feed upon insects* and soft plant material and whose young are helpless at birth”.

– including other larger animal prey

This is Wikipedia doing the moonwalk-> This latter definition does discriminate against a few species, however as can be seen, the definition is very subjective and can encompass numerous species not generally included in the group. 

Rufous hornbill a soft bill bird

rufous hornbill – a softbill bird

If you look at the ingredients of Finch Bird Food by Hagen Living World you’ll notice that the seeds in this excellent finch food all have very soft hulls – Siberian millet, white millet, golden millet, red millet, canary grass seed, oat groats, ground corn, toasted buckwheat grits, dried papaya, canola seed, soybean meal and nyger seed,

Now here’s where it gets a little touchy, Birds Unlimited. In your comment you say that finches are hardbills I’m going with finches are both hardbills & waxbills, species like doves are hardbills. I could not find a list categorizing hookbill and waxbill finches but will continue to search as tirelessly as the Chicago Bears owners search for a manager.

Sometimes Wikipedia makes thing look fuzzy so here’s the list sans the blah-blah. 

  • Aracaris
  • Bee-eaters
  • Corvids (which covers crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers)
  • Fly-catchers
  • Fruit Doves
  • Hornbills
  • Hummingbirds
  • Kingfishers
  • Mousebirds
  • Rollers
  • Sunbirds
  • Toucanets
  • Turacos

Which makes me want to assemble pictures of all these spectacular winged creatures. I have miles to go tonite but look for those pix next week – it’ll be fun.

In the meantime, “nutcrackers” needs to be fact checked – great! now I have to go & fix Wikipedia – take that to-do list (& my to-do list just sent me an email with its own to-do list!) 

2 Hyacinth macaw parrots - hookbill birds

2 hyacinth macaw parrots – the god feathers of hookbill birds

Feathered factoid: hyacinths can easily break welds and bars on many bird cages manufactured today.

To my credit, Birds Unlimited – the majority of birders lump finches, canaries and doves together. To your point from this day forward we (the team at Windy City Parrot) will correctly label the appropriate species as “hookbills,” “hardbills,” “softbills,” and “waxbills” knowing these are not scientific terms but with the understanding all these terms will still be universally misused by everyone but you and now me. That in spite of our personal best efforts to change the thinking of all the caged bird keepers on planit earth.

written by mitch rezman
approved by catherine tobsing

Mitch Rezman

He's handled a 1000 birds of numerous species when they visited monthly birdie brunches in the old Portage Park (Chicago, IL) facility. The one with the parrot playground. Mitch has written and published more than 1100 articles on captive bird care. He's met with the majority of  CEO's and business owners for most brands in the pet bird space and does so on a regular basis. He also constantly interacts with avian veterinarians and influencers globally.

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