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Why Don’t Birds Have Teeth?

As you watch the birds in your garden enjoying your feeders have you ever wondered why birds don’t have teeth?

Millions of years ago there were toothed birds but not anymore. What happened to them?

Scientists believe that they can now explain why birds are toothless. It turns out that a diet of seeds was the difference between life and death.

Dinosaur Ancestors

Researchers have been studying the Cretaceous period. An examination of some 3,000 fossilised teeth has revealed that toothed birds were present on earth until the end of the Cretaceous period but then disappeared. Clearly the meteor strike which devastated our planet and saw off the dinosaurs had led to the extinction of toothed birds. But toothless birds endured. Why was this when the two groups of birds were so similar?

Meteor Strike

Scientists believe that it was their diet which saved toothless birds and why all species then evolved to have beaks. When the meteor struck Earth 66 million years ago, the planet was plunged into darkness and there was a dramatic change of climate. Plants would have died off and so plant eating animals would have starved. Their deaths meant that there was no food for the carnivorous species either. Whilst most plant life disappeared, hardy seeds may still have available and so the creatures which could eat these were able to survive.

The small, toothless bird-like dinosaurs of the Cretaceous period must be the ancestors of all bird species that have since evolved. These beaked dinosaurs were able to crack open seeds and this was the route to salvation following the catastrophic meteor strike.


This idea remains only a hypothesis but one which makes sense. The theory does raise another question though. Why was it that some species has already lost their teeth by the time the meteor struck? The DNA in fossilised teeth has been tested and has revealed that flying species had started to lose their ability to create enamel some 50 million years earlier.

This was an evolutionary process which may have continued as it was beneficial for flying creatures to lose some of the weight in their skulls. This would have made them more efficient in flight. However, animals were flying prior to the loss of teeth and we know that bats can fly.

The truth is that nobody really understands what initiated the loss of teeth. Whatever it was it proved to be a good thing when that meteor struck. The lack of teeth may now seem like an inconvenience but proved to be the characteristic that enabled birds to continue evolving and to thrive. Perhaps the next time you watch the birds at your nyjer seed feeders you will view them in a whole new light.

Birds endured when other species did not but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need your help now. Many species are in decline and need your support in the shape of food, water and nesting boxes. You can fill your nyjer seed feeders with the high quality, low cost seed from Little Peckers!


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