Many birds have powerful muscles for closing their bills. These “clasping” muscles assist birds in grabbing, crushing and breaking seeds and other foods.
In contrast, some birds, for example, blackbirds and starlings, have the ability to forcibly open their bill against some pressure. These birds push their bills into the ground or tufts of grass and can force open the soil or grass to reveal hidden insects. This ability is called gaping.
Why gaping? The gape is the part of a bird’s bill where the mandible and maxilla (the two bill halves) join and where these muscles are located.
The western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) exhibits gaping. These inhabitants of open habitats in the West primarily eat insects and other invertebrates and seeds. Interestingly, the head of a western meadowlark is shaped such that they can focus their eyes forward to the tip of the bill. Anything that is exposed by gaping can then be seen. This aids with the western meadowlark feeding by gaping.
This western meadowlark was photographed atop a dead willow at the east end of Elkins Pond #1 in Ash Creek Wildlife Area, Modoc County CA. Meadowlarks belong to the Blackbird Family (Icteridae).