What’s Inside Your Bird’s Mouth?

Photo of blue and gold macaw from parrotinfoclub.com

When we look at our birds, one of the first things we notice is the over-sized protrusion jutting out from its face. It is something we bird lovers have all come to respect enormously and the thing that causes many people their fear of parrots. I thought it would be fun if we took a tour of the inside our bird’s beak and discovered what is (and isn’t) in there.

When you look inside the mouth, right away you will notice there are no teeth present. In fact, birds used to have teeth but started evolving away from them about 2.5 million years ago. Some geese species have serrated edges to their beaks that give them a toothy appearance, but it is an adaptation to their bill called tomia and are not at all actual teeth.

Fossilized jawbone of Chilean seabird from National Geographic

I think we can all agree that our parrots don’t really need teeth. Their present-day diet does not require them and they are very capable of decimating our property without them.

Photo of Greylag geese from webecoist.momtastic.com

You will also notice a lack of saliva. If you are foolish enough to reach into your parrot’s mouth, you will find it dry. In actuality, there are salivary glands at the back of their mouth that produce the moisture that assists in swallowing dry items like seed and pellets.

At the very back of their mouth is a V-shaped slit with fringed edges called the choana. It is the part of the palate that serves as a barrier between the throat and the nasal passages. Interestingly, this particular area of the mouth gives up a lot of information about your bird’s health. Your avian vet will check the condition the soft barbs that rim the choana for indications of dietary deficiencies and other problems.

Photo of choanal papillae from www.hari.ca

The most remarkable occupant in the parrot mouth is definitely the tongue. Unlike our own, which is comprised entirely of muscle tissue, the parrots tongue contains a series of bones called the hyoid apparatus which gives it both rigidity and flexibility. The bones are surrounded by fleshy padding and in lieu of hands, a parrot uses its tongue while exploring its environment.

The bone closest to the tip of the tongue branches into a “Y” shape and creates a slight indentation that helps them keep objects in place against the tip of their tongue while they manipulate them. (You may want to take my words for this – my cockatoo was not amused as I examined this region of his anatomy.) It is fascinating to watch a parrot roll a nut or bead around with his tongue with the same dexterity of at least three human fingers. In fact, I often liken the parrot tongue to a human finger.

There are several recent scientific articles published defining the role of a parrot’s tongue in their ability to mimic human speech. Apparently, they have just now noticed how active a parrot’s tongue is while they are talking and have surmised that it might be more integral to the process than previously thought. Ya think? Try making a “P” or “B” sound without lips. This is an observation we parrot owners made a very long time ago!

The healthy parrot tongue is smooth, unblemished and usually dry. They are generally grey, pink, or black in color. However, there are some very cool exceptions:

The yellow and black hyacinth macaw tongue:

The red and black Palm cockatoo tongue:

And the spectacular brushed end of the lorikeet tongue:

Photo of lorikeet tongue from i09.com

If you ever notice any marks, bumps or lesions on your bird’s tongue or white patches in the mouth, please see your vet right away.

 Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

12 comments

Lina Bogdanova

Hi, I recently bought a Timneh African Grey. I noticed that the rood of his tongue is red and wonder if this is normal, or something to worry about. I took it from a place that it hasn’t been looked good after and I thought they might be a problem. Perhaps some kind of fungus. I also have a Congo African Grey that I’ve been looking after for several years. His tongue is black that is normal. Is the redness on the rood of the tongue normal too?

Lina Bogdanova
Sara

Hi, I see something yellow on the side of the my parrot’s tongue. I have indian ringneck. Im not sure what it is. The tongue is supposed to be fully pink.

Sara
Ana

Why is my parakeets mouth black inside?

Ana
vandana

Whenever my cockatiel eats, food dries up inside its mouth and forms dry lumps which stick onto his tongue and to both side of the beak. Any idea how i can clean it up without hurting him? He don’t like me cleaning his beak he doesn’t bite but run away from my hands!.. I’m very much worried that he might choke if it gets too thick!!

vandana
kaveh

Hi. I want to see parakeet Alexandrian ’s tongue image. Sent it to me by e mail plz.

kaveh
kathy morgan

thanks for the informative artical, i learned a lot, with i always do from your post. i got 4 right thanks

kathy morgan
Sharyn Lightfoot

5 right for me..whoo hoo! That was a really interesting article. Thank you. My Double yellow headed Amazon has a pink tongue with black spots on the side and underneath. Can never get a photo though. LOL!

Sharyn Lightfoot
Ross Perry

Well presented. Thank you. I am sharing your link on my facebook Dr Ross Perry bird vet page. Dr Ross Perry.

Ross Perry
Marjorie A. Hoppas

Thanks for the informative articlre. I really learbed quite a bit. Thanks again.Oh by the way, I got a 100% on the quiz/

Marjorie A. Hoppas
Ladonna

very interesting and I got 5 of the 6 right yay me!!!!

Ladonna
Amba Amore

Very cool! It is amazing to watch a parrot manipulate an object with their tongue and foot. My rose breasted cockatoo still has trouble with P and B sounds (but she is young) her name is Pink but when she speaks it sound like “ink”. I got only one question wrong- I had no idea that a parrots have bones in their tongues! Thanks for the article, I love to learn about our feathery friends:)

Amba Amore
Rae Hohl

I learn something new about my bird everyday. I find that once I figure him out, he teaches me. New lesson that is ongoing. My little cockatiel is a beautiful creature.

Rae Hohl

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