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By: Sneed B. Collard III / Illustrated by: Robin Brickman

Birds have beaks. And beaks are enough.

How can a toucan fly with such a large, cumbersome beak? A toucan's beak is actually light as a feather due to its honeycomb construction. And not only is it beautiful, but it's an extremely useful tool in foraging for food. Find out more fascinating facts in this remarkably illustrated study of bird beaks. Learn about several different birds, their habitats, and how their beaks are uniquely styled to help them survive.

Outstanding 3-D cut-paper illustrations by Robin Brickman create amazingly realistic tableaus of birds in their natural environments with their beaks in action. Back matter includes a comprehensive quiz, a bibliography, and a list of related Web sites.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Sneed B. Collard III, author

Sneed B. Collard III has been a biologist, computer scientist, and author. He began writing after graduating with honors in marine biology from the University of California, Berkeley. Sneed is the author of several children’s books, including, Creepy Creatures, Our Wet World, Forest in the Clouds, and One Night in the Coral Sea. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

Read more about Sneed.

Robin Brickman, illustrator

For nearly 30 years, Robin Brickman’s affinity for natural science and art has culminated into realistic illustrations like those found in One Night in the Coral Sea and Beaks! Her innovative illustrations entail a painstaking process of sketching, cutting, painting, gluing, and shaping. The finished 3-dimensional molds are then photographed and used as illustrations. Robin lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Read more about Robin.

Awards & Honors:

  • IRA Teachers' Choices
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

This exploration of bird beaks will fly off the shelf. Collard, a scientist, biologist, and author of over 30 nature titles, including Butterfly Count, provides a treasure trove of interesting facts about beaks that peck, probe, crush, tear, tap, skim, scoop, stab, pry, and dig. For instance, the twisted beak of the crossbill is just perfect for prying apart the scales of pinecones to expose the seeds that it laps up with its sticky tongue. Or the large colorful toucan's beak looks heavy but is really very light because of a honeycomb construction. Some gull beaks change colors as the bird grows older, while puffins shed bright-colored beak decorations each year. The choice of artist was truly brilliant, as it is her work that sets this apart. She provides spectacular watercolor and cut-paper collages that not only complement the text, but should cause gasps of wonder. Many double-page layouts showing birds in their natural environment are suitable for display. The author provides a short quiz to "Test your beakability," inviting the reader to predict what birds eat by looking at their beaks. Includes a bibliography and Web sites for more information.


This brightly illustrated, large-format volume invites children to consider the varying physical qualities and purposes of different birds' beaks. Each spread spotlights one or two species and how they use their beaks. A brief line of text, printed in large type and conveying an essential idea, is followed by a paragraph of information about the bird shown in the illustration. For instance, the section on macaws begins, "heavy beaks crush," and explains how the macaw's strong beak enables it to eat nuts that other birds cannot crack. This arrangement offers a brief introduction for younger children and a longer one for older ones. Focusing on the narrow topics of beaks allows Collard to be quite specific, but it also offers opportunities to introduce more general principles such as evolution. The term "paper collage" doesn't convey the three-dimensional quality of Brickman's striking pictures. Constructed of painted and cut papers, they give the illusion of depth in the picture plane as well as rounding shapes in the figures of individual birds. Short lists of recommended books and web sites round out this attractive an informative volume.

School Library Journal

The intricate characteristics of a variety of birds' beaks are presented skillfully through words and vividly painted, cut-and-sculpted-paper illustrations. The habits of birds and the information on how their beaks' composition allows them to eat are truly fascinating. The author explains that beaks can also help birds build nests (bowerbirds) or dig (bee-eaters). Some beaks change colors as the bird ages (seagulls) or during different seasons. The clear text is easy to follow, and students will enjoy hearing it read aloud or find it useful for reports. The lively style will facilitate rich discussion, while teaching the students the scientific facts of these feathered friends. Some of the featured species, such as song sparrows, are common, but others are quite exotic. A worthwhile resource for libraries and classrooms.

Library Media Connection

This books is an easy non-fiction title about various birds and how they use their beaks. Each page features a specific bird, tells how its beak is designed , and how it uses its beak to get food. Sneed Collard has researched the topic well and his love of birds can be felt as you read the book. The book's large size is an attractive plus for young children as the birds are close to life size. Although the books is limited to beaks, it would make a wonderful addition to the wildlife section. This title could be used by teachers and librarians in a thematic unit on birds or animal noses. The illustration jump out at you, the captions are in bold print, and the children will be attracted by the beautiful designs. Although short, this title contains a lot of useful information on the various birds. Not only will children love reading this book, but they also will learn without realizing it. Collard includes a brief quiz and a bibliography of books and Web sites for children to read or research. Robin Brickman's unique use of cut-paper done in watercolor gives the colorful illustrations a three-dimensional look, which makes the book come alive.

National Wildlife Federation Backyard Buddies

Take a look at the August 2003 issue of Your Big Backyard and find the toucans and the parrot. Look at their beaks. They look completely different. Do you know why? Well, this book will tell you all about the different types of beaks that birds have and why each is special.

You'll learn about beaks that change color as the birds grow older, short sturdy beaks that help woodpeckers drill into wood, light and fragile beaks which help toucans eat berries and much more. The information is scientifically accurate yet written at a level that children can understand. The illustrations are unique—three-dimensional paper that has been painted. Both colorful and realistic, the pictures will find children trying to feel the feathers (and the beaks) of each bird.

Childhood Education

Have you ever noticed the variety of bird beaks? They come in different shapes and sizes as determined by function. Painted, cut-paper illustrations accompany detailed descriptions of how each type of beak is used, and readers will be fascinated by the three-dimensional diagrams of beaks in action. For fun, test what you have learned by matching beak to food at the end of this resource. Also featured are helpful Web sites about birds and recommendations for more bird literature.

Learning Magazine

Beaks can build, dig, and change colors. Heavy beaks can crush, and long beaks can probe. This book describes different birds, their habitats, and how their uniquely styled beaks help them survive.


Beaks! is a brilliantly illustrated book focusing on the unique attributes of, you guessed it, birds' beaks. Filled with interesting facts and questions, this book reveals why a toucan is not weighed down by its bill when it flies: The bill has a unique honeycomb construction that makes it incredibly lightweight. What does the shape of a beak tell us about how the bird lives, eats, survives? Several birds are discussed in this book. The illustrations by Robin Brickman are watercolors, which are then cut, pasted and photographed to create a spectacular illusion of depth. In the back of the book are a comprehensive quiz, a bibliography, and a list of related Web sites.


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ISBN: 978-1-57091-388-4

ISBN: 978-1-60734-167-3 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 4-8
Page count: 32
8 1/2 x 11

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Birds: Nature's Magnificent Flying Machines