Do Birds Have Teeth?

Goose Tomia

No, birds don’t have teeth. Although modern-day birds are descended from a group of reptiles called Archosaurs, which did have teeth, the trigger to enable genes to produce them was switched off about 100 million years ago.

Recent studies have shown that the genes for teeth are still present in chickens and in 2005 a mutant strain of chicken was found that did have teeth. But cases like this really are as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth.

The loss of teeth was because birds didn’t need them. Most species of birds do not hunt prey, for example, and those that do have evolved sharper and more powerful beaks and claws. For birds who eat smaller animals, insects and seeds, teeth would make it harder to use their beaks as efficiently.

Birds swallow their food whole and it is ground up by the gizzard, a muscular organ in their stomach, so they can digest it. They therefore don’t need teeth to chew so teeth would be a waste of resources.

Some birds have tooth-like serrations, called tomia, that run along the edges of their bills, which help them grip food. Birds of prey, such as falcons. may also have a “tomial tooth” on their upper mandible which they use to sever their prey’s vertebrae. However, these are not teeth in the true sense of the word, as they are not coated in enamel.

Baby birds have what is a known as an “egg tooth”, a small, sharp structure on the end of their beaks, used to penetrate the shell of the egg so they can hatch. The egg tooth will fall off a few days after hatching.

Birds in your inbox

Sign up for the latest news and updates