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Birds

red_loryBirds are an important part of our lives.
People have domesticated our feathered friends like chickens, turkeys, and mallard ducks, used birds as food, painted pictures and written stories about them, and used their feathers as ornaments. Their ability to fly has fascinated us for thousands of years.

From a bee hummingbird, the smallest bird weighing as little as a dime, to the flightless ostrich, the largest bird weighing as much as two adult men and standing seven feet tall, all 9,000 species of birds share many common traits which classify them as BIRDS.

mandarian02One of the first words that pops into most people’s heads at the thought of a bird is the word feathers. All birds, even water birds like penguins, have these lightweight structures. In fact, birds are the only creatures in the world with feathers. They’re great for keeping warm and dry, attracting mates, blending into the surroundings, or flying…

Which brings us to another most popular “bird word” – wings. Every bird, including flightless and semi-flightless birds like ostriches, penguins, and peacocks, has wings. The wings on flightless birds are just not strong enough for doing what no other animals, besides bats can do.  Most birds can fly. Birds have many amazing adaptations to help them with this amazing feat.  Did you know birds have bones with air spaces inside throughout them to make them lighter?  They also have extremely powerful chest muscles that stretch from their well-developed breastbones to their wings to help them flap those wings.

Peacock-DDM02Birds eat a wide variety of foods from fruits and vegetables to worms and insects to seeds and nuts, but they don’t have teeth to chew those foods. Instead, birds have beaks or bills that are specialized for the types of foods they eat. Birds of prey like hawks and eagles that eat rodents and other small animals have special hooked beaks for picking and tearing meat. Seed and nut-eating birds have shorter, thicker beaks for breaking the outer coverings of seeds and nuts. After a bird swallows its food, the food goes to a muscular organ called a gizzard where it is ground up even more. The energy that birds get from their food is partially used to make their own body heat (they are endothermic). They can also keep their body temperature the same whether it is cold or warm outside (they are homoiothermic).

Instead of giving birth to live young, birds lay eggs with a hard shell and incubate them until they hatch.  Most birds lay their eggs in some form of a nest to provide warmth and protection from the weather and predators. Some birds are better at making nests than others.  Shore birds like Wilson’s plover simply make a few scrapes on the ground or in the sand as nests while many perching birds like weaver birds make intricately woven or sculpted nests that hang from the ends of branches.

Finally, birds, like humans, stand upright and walk or swim using only two feet. Some birds, especially flightless birds like ostriches, rheas, and emus must only rely on their legs to move through their environment. Ostriches have such strong legs that they have the ability to run as fast as 35 mph. They could easily win a foot race with most people.

Click here for a list of birds

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