Birds are vertebrate animals adapted for flight.
For mellennia, birds have been winging their way across the globe and through our imaginations. They have value culturally, artistically, philosophically and economically. But beyond that, they play a huge role in preserving our precious ecosystem and as such, all life on this planet.
There are more than 10,400 living species unique in having feathers, the major characteristic that distinguishes them from all other animals.
Birds are more related to reptiles than to mammals and that they have a four-chambered heart (as do mammals), forelimbs modified into wings (a trait shared with bats), a hard-shelled egg, and keen vision, the major sense they rely on for information about the environment. Their sense of smell is not highly developed, and auditory range is limited. Most birds are diurnal in habit.
Although all birds have wings, a few species can’t fly.
Birds live and breed in most terrestrial habitats and on all seven continents, reaching their southern extreme in the snow petrel’s breeding colonies up to 440 kilometres (270 mi) inland in Antarctica. The highest bird diversity occurs in tropical regions. It was earlier thought that this high diversity was the result of higher speciation rates in the tropics – however recent studies found higher speciation rates in the high latitudes that were offset by greater extinction rates than in the tropics.
Many species migrate annually over great distances and across oceans – several families of birds have adapted to life both on the world’s oceans and in them, and some seabird species come ashore only to breed, while some penguins have been recorded diving up to 300 metres (980 ft) deep.
Most birds are diurnal, but some birds, such as many species of owls and nightjars, are nocturnal or crepuscular (active during twilight hours), and many coastal waders feed when the tides are appropriate, by day or night.
The smallest bird is the bee hummingbird of Cuba and the Isle of Youth. Males measure 57 mm (2.24 in) in total length, half of which is taken up by the bill and tail, and weigh 1.6 g (0.056 oz) Females are slightly larger.
The biggest of all the birds on Earth, both in size and weight, is undoubtedly the ostrich. These behemoth birds grow up to 2.7 meters (9 feet) tall and can weigh up to 130 kilograms (287 pounds), according to San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
The largest birds that ever lived are the elephant birds of Madagascar, which became extinct around 1,000 years ago. The largest species among these was Vorombe titan (“big bird” in Malagasy and Greek), which stood as tall as 3 metres (9 feet 10 inches). It is estimated to have weighed as much as 860 kilograms (1,895 pounds 15 ounces) – with an average weight of 642.9 kilograms (1,417 pounds 5 ounces) – as confirmed in a paper published in Royal Society Open Science on 26 September 2018.
The oldest bird is Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo who was 82 years and 89 days old when he passed away on 27 August 2016.
The bird with the largest vocabulary was a budgerigar, Puck, owned by Camille Jordan of Petaluma, California, USA, who knew an estimated 1728 words before its death in 1994.
The Peregrine Falcon is indisputably the fastest animal in the sky. It has been measured at speeds above 83.3 m/s (186 mph), but only when stooping, or diving.
The greatest distance covered by a ringed bird is 26,000 km (16,250 miles) by a common tern banded as a juvenile on 30 June 1996 in central Finland. It was recaptured alive at Rotamah Island, Victoria, Australia in the fourth week of January 1997. To have reached this destination it is believed the bird had to have travelled 200 km (124 miles) per day.
Heart beat of hummingbird can reach a maximum of about 1200 beats per minute.
The Hummingbird got their name because of the unique humming sound they make with their wings during flight. Each species creates a different humming sound, depending on the speed of its wing beats.
The southern Florida subspecies of the Everglades kite has the most specialised diet of any bird, living exclusively upon a single species of snail, the large freshwater apple snail.
Scientists aren’t sure why do flamingos stand on one leg. There is less heat lost through the leg if it is tucked next to the bird’s body – however, this behavior is also seen in hot climates. Another explanation is more mundane: it’s probably a comfortable position for standing.
Few birds have a highly developed sense of smell. However, the black-footed albatross, native to the North Pacific, has a sense of smell sensitive enough for it to be attracted by the smell of bacon fat poured onto the ocean surface at least 30 km (18 miles) away. Other birds with a keen sense of smell are the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) of America, and the kiwis (genus Apteryx) of New Zealand which, unlike other birds, have their nostrils at the tip of their bill instead of at the base.
Domestication of the chicken dates back to at least 2000 BC and their ancestry can be traced back to four species of wild jungle fowl from Southeast Asia.
Native Americans consider the bald eagle and the golden eagle to be sacred.
Since earliest times birds have been not only a material but also a cultural resource. Bird figures were created by prehistoric humans in the Lascaux Grotto of France and have featured prominently in the mythology and literature of societies throughout the world. Long before ornithology was practiced as a science, interest in birds and the knowledge of them found expression in conversation and stories, which then crystallized into the records of general culture.
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and paintings, for example, include bird figures. The Bible refers to Noah’s use of the raven and dove to bring him information about the proverbial Flood.
More than 1,000 extinct species have been identified from fossil remains.