Study of Common Birds
Birds make up the scientific class Aves. They are warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrateanimals that are covered with feathers and possess forelimbs that have modified to becomewings. Birds also have scaly legs, and no teeth (except in a few early fossil forms). Theymaintain a constant body temperature of about 41 degrees C (106 degrees F).All birds today have descended from their flying ancestors, but a few such as ostriches,emus, some grebes, and cormorants have lost their capacity for aerial flight. Others, such aspenguins, have become adapted to flying in a much denser medium, water. Birds are foundin all habitats, from the icy shores of Antarctica to the hottest parts of the tropics, and frommountains, deserts, plains, and forests to open oceans and densely urbanized areas.They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birdsrange in size from the 5 cm (2 in) Bee Hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) Ostrich. The fossilrecord indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period,around 150–200 Ma (million years ago), and the earliest known bird is the Late JurassicArchaeopteryx, c 150–145 Ma. Most paleontologists regard birds as the only clade of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event approximately 65.5 Ma.Modern birds are characterized by feathers, a beak with no teeth, the laying of hard-shelledeggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton.All living species of birds have wings - the now extinct flightless Moa of New Zealand werethe only exceptions. Wings are evolved forelimbs, and most bird species can fly, with someexceptions including ratites, penguins, and a number of diverse endemic island species.Birds also have unique digestive and respiratory systems that are highly adapted for flight.Some birds, especially corvids and parrots, are among the most intelligent animal species; anumber of bird species have been observed manufacturing and using tools, and many socialspecies exhibit cultural transmission of knowledge across generations.Many species undertake long distance annual migrations, and many more perform shorterirregular movements. Birds are social; they communicate using visual signals and throughcalls and songs, and participate in social behaviors including cooperative breeding andhunting, flocking, and mobbing of predators. The vast majority of bird species are sociallymonogamous, usually for one breeding season at a time, sometimes for years, but rarely forlife. Other species have breeding systems that are polygamous ("many females") or, rarely,polyandrous ("many males"). Eggs are usually laid in a nest and incubated by the parents.Most birds have an extended period of parental care after hatching.Many species are of economic importance, mostly as sources of food acquired throughhunting or farming. Some species, particularly songbirds and parrots, are popular as pets.Other uses include the harvesting of guano (droppings) for use as a fertilizer. Birds figureprominently in all aspects of human culture from religion to poetry to popular music. About120–130 species have become extinct as a result of human activity since the 17th century,and hundreds more before then. Currently about 1,200 species of birds are threatened withextinction by human activities, though efforts are underway to protect them.