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The Avian Tongue

Take a look at your bird’s tongue, and you’ll notice that it bears little resemblance to that of a cat, dog or human.

By Susan Chamberlain

The lack of visible saliva is one of the first things you’ll notice. Although the hookbill’s tongue is dry, saliva presides in the back of the mouth. It resembles mucus, unlike the watery saliva of humans and other mammals. 

Its shape and texture are different, too. Parrots, from budgies to macaws, have dry, blunt, smooth-textured, somewhat club-shaped tongues. The toucan’s tongue, on the other hand, is frayed on each side, which gives it an almost feather like appearance. “When the bird grabs something in its beak though, the tongue does touch and position the food before it swallows, so it seems to do the job,” said Marc Morrone, owner of Parrots of the World pet store in Rockville Centre, New York, and host of the television program, “Petkeeping with Marc Morrone.”

Color varies from black to brownish to pink, depending on the genetic heritage of the individual bird. Cracker, my female double yellow-headed Amazon parrot, has a pink-tipped brown tongue, while Romez, my male double yellowhead has a pink one. 

Birds use their tongues in a variety of ways. Robert Monaco, DVM, Dip. ABVP of the Old Country Animal Clinic in Plainview, New York, explained, “Birds have a less developed sense of taste than humans, but have added touch receptors so the tongue can be used as a sensory organ.”  

**For the full article, pick up the December issue of BIRD TALK**

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The Avian Tongue

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Reader Comments
good article
n, n, TN
Posted: 2/11/2012 6:43:45 AM
A nice fun article.
Dee, Sandy Valley, NV
Posted: 11/29/2010 8:15:02 PM
This was a fun fact to learn about.
Jamie, Almont, MI
Posted: 6/11/2008 6:39:33 AM
Good article. So it means that texture of food is more important to parrots than to us humans maybe?
Maggie, Bonshaw, PE
Posted: 6/10/2008 3:30:05 PM
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