What is the difference between a beak and a bill?

April 1, 2009
Whatever you chose to call it, this Long-billed Curlew has one impressive bill...or beak. Photo by Gregory Gard via Birdshare. Whatever you chose to call it, this Long-billed Curlew has one impressive bill...or beak. Photo by Gregory Gard via Birdshare.
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Not a thing–the words are synonymous. Ornithologists tend to use the word “bill” more often than “beak,” and I personally tend to use “beak” most when referring to songbirds with pointed bills, but I’ve seen both words used in reference to a wide variety of species.

One important caveat: if you tell that old joke about the duck going into the drugstore to buy some chapstick, and the cashier asks how he’s going to pay for it and the duck says, “put it on my bill”—well, that joke just doesn’t work if you say “beak.”

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