This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
fLYfK0 TH0000H THI IKfII
BIrda are WeII-Adapred and WIae
ne day a mockingbird, who was in charge of waking up the sun with his
songs, did not wake up on time. That was all he had to do, and it was the
mockingbird’s fault that the sun did not rise and the animals of the for-
est overslept. The spirit that protects the birds got mad, and as punishment the
mockingbird now has to sing for many hours, and that is why you can hear them
singing in the forest at any time of the day.
Another legend of Maya origin tells us that parrots lost their teeth be-
cause they kept telling the secrets of the gods, and now as a punishment they are
condemned to repeat incessantly what they hear. Birds have intrigued human-
kind for centuries, and we find reference to them in history books, stories, and
BIRDS ARE WELL DESIGNED FOR FLIGHT
When people eat chicken some even eat everything, bone and all, because they are
so light and hollow that our teeth can crush them. Birds also have fewer bones than
other animals like reptiles and mammals. Some bones have been eliminated while
others have been fused. They lack teeth and jaws. The bones of the cranium are
fused, and the bones themselves are hollow and porous. Bird’s skeletons are light
but rigid, and it weighs only 5-10% of their total body weight.
Birds need powerful muscles to fly. Made up of red muscle fibers, bird’s
muscles receive large quantities of blood because they have more capillaries. Red
muscle fibers can also store fat, which supply needed energy for flying. Flying birds
have red fibers in their chest muscles, while chickens and other walking birds have
darker muscle fibers in their legs, where they need more strength. Chickens can fly
very little because their chest muscles are white, with very little fat, capable of
working only for short periods of time.
Flying birds also have larger hearts
then flightless birds. Birds that are active
fliers, such as hummingbirds, use up their
energy rapidly, and their hearts beat very
fast; up to 1,200 beats per minute. When
they are relaxed they can lower their heart-
beat to 500 beats per minute. The body
temperature of a bird can change up to 5°
C depending on the activity level.
Even though some birds are flight-
less. Their bones, wings, and muscles are
still designed to make them light. These birds
lost the ability to fly because it was more convenient for them to stay on land. Such is the
case of chickens. Penguins on the other hand have given up flight for swimming.
Even though they regulate their temperature internally, and do not depend
on the outside temperature like reptiles, birds can get warmer or cooler depending
on what they are doing. Their temperature rises when they fly, run, are digesting
their food, or it is simply hot outside. Their temperature decreases when it is cold,
or when the animal is resting or sleeping.
Bird’s lungs have many air passages that allow them to take in a large amount
of oxygen. They also have air sacs that help them make their bodies lighter.
Birds have a well-developed nervous system. Their brain is proportionately
larger in the areas of vision and motor coordination, both very important abilities for
birds. In contrast to other vertebrates, almost all birds can see in color. The majority
locate their food by sight and they also detect their enemies by sight. Their eyes can see
things that human beings can only see with binoculars. Even though they communicate
with songs, their sense of hearing is not as well developed as in humans. Only owls that
prey at night locate their victims through their acute sense of hearing. Birds are not
finicky when it comes to eating: they do not have a well-developed sense of taste or
smell. They swallow their food rapidly and are not choosy when it comes to selecting
their food, although they can recognize bitter or venomous foods. For example, insec-
tivorous birds learn to avoid monarch butterflies and other toxic or foul tasting insects.
Owls are master hunters of the night
If you are a mouse and live in an owl’s territory, look out! At night, you won’t be
able to see an owl coming, and you won’t be able to hear it either because owls
have modified wings that reduce the sounds normally created when birds fly.
If you are a mouse, you had better be a quiet mouse because owls
can detect the slightest sounds with great precision. Barn owls can locate
their prey by sound. The shape of their face improves owl’s acute sense of
hearing, which is a concave surface with rigid dark feathers that direct sound
waves toward their ears.
If you are a mouse, you can try hiding, but that also has its risks -
because owls know their territory well. Therefore, if you are a mouse in an
owl’s territory, the best thing you can do is to move to a new territory as soon
turkeys were domesticated
at the time of the Mayas?
CHARACTERISTIC PARTS OF BIRDS
Feathers are a common feature of birds. Feathers protect bird’s delicate skin and
helps them keep warm. The feathers of aquatic birds help them swim and keep dry.
In some birds like ducks, the feath-
ers are covered with oil, and others
have interwoven feathers to repel the
water. Feathers are very light and are
separately attached to the muscles.
This features favors flight and ma-
neuverability. Each bird has thou-
sands of feathers: a hummingbird has
about 1,500 and a duck has about 12,000. When they are worn out, feathers are
replaced. The changing of feathers is called molting. Immature birds molt more
frequently; adults molt once a year. Migrating birds that reside in North America
have a reproductive plumage and a winter plumage.
Birds have color vision and send messages with their plumage. Some birds
change colors during different times of the year. In many species, like the quetzal,
the male’s plumage is more colorful that the female’s. The color of the feathers is
the product of pigments and feather structure.
The most common pigments in birds are melanin that gives them a black
coloration and carotenoid that produces the yellow, red and orange colorations.
Other colors seen in birds are the result of the reflection of light and the structure of
the feather. White feathers lack pigment.
Quetzals are not green!
No kidding! If you observe a quetzal feather up close, you would notice that the
feathers are blue with an almost transparent yellow layer. When the sun strikes
them, what we see is the color green. Something similar happens with grackles,
whose feathers are very dark with a layer of blue pigment that gives them their
characteristic iridescent color.
I II II,-61.1+ ,-61.1+ ,-61.1+ ,-61.1+ ,-61.1+) )) ))61 61 61 61 61 F FF FF-) -) -) -) -)674-5 674-5 674-5 674-5 674-5
The iridescent feather color in Grackles, hummingbirds and doves depends
on the angle at which the light is reflecting off of the bird.
Many marine birds like gulls and pelicans are white because it is the color
that can be distinguished at greater distances under any type of light. When one of
them finds food, the others can easily see it and quickly follow.
Birds spend time caring for their feathers. They carefully preen their feath-
ers one by one. Birds also have an oil-producing gland under their tail that they
access with their beaks to add oil back to their feathers as they preen. Water and
dust baths also keep the feathers in good condition by helping control excess oil.
Wings to fly!
If we observe birds as they fly, we can see that flight varies from one species to the
other, depending on the life style of the animal. The design of the wings also varies
with the flight style. There are four basic wing types:
Dynamic Gliding Wings. Birds such as frigate birds and
gulls glide at high speeds in strong winds. They have long
and narrow wings. Marine birds that spend a long time fly-
ing and rarely come to land have this type of wing. They
use the continuous ocean winds to both glide up high into
the sky, as well as to return back to water level. When the
wind blows again, they repeat the process.
Elliptic wings. These wings are maneuverable, appropriate
for birds that live in the forests where the distances for take
off are short and they need to turn often. Pigeons, wood-
peckers, and finches have this type of wing.
High velocity wings. They are long and thin, typical of birds
that feed in the air. They are fast but not maneuverable.
Hummingbirds have this type of wing so they can hover
High altitude wings. They are found in large birds that glide
at high altitudes. These wings are broad and wide with fin-
ger-like feathers at the tips, formed by the separation of the feathers. These birds
have broad tails, and include buzzards, hawks, and eagles. They search for their
food while flying, and they can fly at high altitudes for several hours. The majority
cannot beat their wings for a long time, and instead take advantage of air currents.
Well-adapted bills and feet
What do these two features have in common? They are diverse and well adapted to
the bird’s habitat. The shape of the beak and feet provides a key to the feeding
habits of a bird. The following beaks are adapted to the specific food each bird eats.
Beaks of seed-eating birds. Short and thick beaks to crush hard seeds. Common in
Beaks of insectivorous birds. They are conical, sharp-pointed, and very strong beaks
appropriate for catching insects. They are found in oropendolas and vireos.
Beaks for digging. Pointed thin beaks that can penetrate the soil easily. Grackles
have this type of beak.
King Vultures were not
given their regal name be-
cause they have brighter
and more diverse colors
than other buzzards? Their
common name comes from
the fact that King Vultures
will not let other buzzards
approach carrion until they
are fully satisfied and fin-
Flamingos live in a very plentiful environment
Under a full moon, a large flock of birds takes
off from the Celestún estuary and head to-
ward the bridge that crosses the harbor. The
commotion of the birds is carried across the
water by the wind. The sound is intense and
steady. In Celestún, this can only be one
thing: a large flock of pink flamingoes nois-
ily feeding in the muddy waters. With their
long necks completely bent over, the flamin-
gos put their heads in the water to feed on
the abundant tiny organisms found in the es-
tuary. The strange shape of their beaks (bent
downward) allows them to scoop the bot-
tom of the estuary when they dip their heads
in the water. Then, they move their necks
side to side while feeding. Flamingos feed in
a manner similar to that of great whales who
use “baleen” to capture their food. The beak
of these birds is surrounded with many small
fibers that trap the small organisms that make
up their diet. Then, the flamingos use their
thick tongues to pump the water back out
of their beaks. Mosquito larvae, grass seeds,
algae, small crustaceans, and mollusks are
all an important part of their diet. Some of
these microorganisms have a particular col-
oration called carotenoid, which flamingoes
then process to obtain the particular pink
coloration of their feathers. There are also
some flamingoes that are brownish, and oth-
ers are almost white. These are young fla-
mingos - the brownish ones were born dur-
ing the current year, the white ones are more
than one year old. Gradually they will ac-
quire the pink coloration of the adults.
Then, as if the entire flock that was feed-
ing under the moon sense the same thing –
they all raise their long necks and –
WHOOSH! – they all take off flying toward
the Celestún estuary. In a few minutes they
will be resting among the mangroves of the
Bocas de Campeche. At dawn, the flamingos preen their elegant plumage under the warmth of the first sunrays. Using both
their beaks and feet for this important task during which the birds brush their delicate feathers and prepare them for flight,
the birds get ready to start a brand new day.
Following their preening, our flock takes off again and heads north, but they do not descend into Celestún, instead
they continue on to the Yucatan coast, and do not stop until they reach the Chicxulub estuary. Our flamingos meet another
flock that is already resting in this estuary that is located next to the road that connects Progreso with Dzilam. With their
pink necks curled up next to their bodies and their heads covered with the feathers of one of their wings, these flamingos of
Chicxulub continue to rest as the newcomers walk around estuary, mixing with their flock.
The mosquitoes, encouraged by a quiet breeze, anxiously search the warmth of the flamingo’s bodies for skin, but
have little success because the abundant plumage of the flamingos prevents them from reaching their goal.
The next group of visitors to stop at the estuary is not more flamingos, but rather are a group of tourists. The
mosquitoes do not hesitate a moment to attack them, and have a much easier time finding what they want. But not even the
incessant need to swat the mosquitoes and suffer their bites takes away from the beauty of the spectacular view.
These visitors are some of the thousands of tourists that come to the Yucatan coast every year in hopes of
seeing the Caribbean flamingo, the largest and most colorful of the world’s six different species of flamingo. The fact
that flamingos are protected in the estuaries of the Yucatán has helped the tourists enjoy this incredible sight.
But these pink beauties do not stay in Chicxulub. Slowly the adults and the juveniles begin the take flight until
a flock of pink birds has formed and begin flying in spirals higher and higher, making great circles in the air, contrasting
the bright blue sky with their pink bodies and delicate wings.
Flying upward, flamingoes begin a nuptial aerial dance. The pairs of males and females will remain together for
the rest of the mating season, as well as for the rest of the year.
The flamingoes that are high in the air gradually descend, and start their noisy racket again. Once in the waters
of the estuary they divide in small groups to continue dancing a particular and meticulous ritual that is repeated over and
over again. The male and female flamingoes (the females are considerably smaller) raise their necks and turn their heads
side to side while they open their wings wide, only to close them back immediately back together again, exposing for just
a moment the contrasting black border of their wings. Then they wrap their necks together and open and close their
wings again. They repeat the ritual among the happy cries of the pink assembly.
Meanwhile, some of the birds feed, others rest, and one or two begin a fight during which they hit each other
with their heads and their beaks, usually without hurting themselves or one another.
In the Chicxulub estuary, now only the younger birds remain, all brown and white. The pink adults have flown
east over the coast. Today they will not stop until they reach Ria Lagartos, all the way on the northern edge of the
Between the months of April and May, the flamingoes start looking for places to breed. Along the Yucatan
coast there are several places where flamingoes have been known to nest for many years, but since the level of the water
changes drastically from one season to another, not all are always appropriate for nesting. One of the most important
flamingo nesting sites in Yucatan is El Cuyo.
There, the flamingoes find the perfect place for nesting. The estuary of El Cuyo has the highest salinity levels
in the entire Yucatan coast. And on its eastern tip, where the flamingo pairs are now arriving, the salinity level can be up
to 3 times higher than the ocean.
Thousands of deep pink flamingoes concentrate here to nest. Their nests are small piles made from mud that
they build with their beaks and feet. The high salinity of the water gives the ground the necessary clay consistency to
build the nest.
The place they select to nest is surrounded with water and away from the vegetation found at the water’s edge. This
way they can avoid predators. Flamingos are very susceptible to disturbances while nesting, and a single curious predator could
make the entire reproductive flock take flight. These intruders include fox, raccoon or even an occasional dog.
Each female flamingo lays one single egg and together with the male they incubate it for one month, until the
chick hatches. The chick is white and fluffy during its first week and can barely walk on its own. The mother and father
feed the chick together.
The parents produce a very nutritious red liquid with which they feed their young. This type of feeding is
observed only in flamingoes and pigeons and in no other species of bird. The new flamingoes are feed like this until they
learn to fly, which occurs when they are approximately three months old.
We are now in August, and the small flamingoes are able to take their first flight. Their parents have had to fly
continuously to Las Coloradas, a feeding area where the different levels of salinity make for abundant food. The salinity
levels in El Cuyo prevent the abundance of life found here at Las Coloradas and elsewhere.
On a daily basis the adults cover an area of 30 km to feed at Las Coloradas and return to their nest in El Cuyo
to take turns protecting the chick with the help of their mate.
By July, all of the flamingos begin leaving the nesting ground. Some stay in Las Coloradas, others continue
flying to the Dzilam estuary, while others return to Chicxulub or Celestún.
As another year passes by, the flamingos continue their frequent flights from one place to another along the
Yucatan coast. Las Bocas de Campeche, Celestún, Sisal, Chicxulub, Dzilam, Ria Lagartos, Las Coloradas, and El Cuyo
are all important places for flamingos. Some groups even venture further down the coasts of Quintana Roo as far south
as Punta Allen.
This is the life of the Yucatan flamingo. Their habitat extends along more than 300 km of coastal wetlands,
mangroves, and estuaries - adding beauty to the landscapes with their pink plumage that never ceases to inspire awe in
both locals and visitors.
The presence of flamingos in the Yucatan landscape depends on the conservation of the coastal wetlands,
where many other species of plants and animals, including humans, now live. We have the ultimate responsibility of
preserving one of the most beautiful and productive ecosystems in the world – the home of the Yucatan Flamingos!
Beaks for tearing. The birds of prey have this type of beak shaped like a hook to tear
Beaks for spearing. Herons have long beaks that are used as spears to catch fish.
Beaks of fruit eating birds. Toucans and parrots have long and broad beaks used for
Beaks of nectar feeding birds. Hummingbirds have fine, curved, long beaks used to
extract nectar from flowers.
Bird’s feet are also adapted to a bird’s life style. Ducks for example have
webbed feet that are better for swimming. Woodpeckers have feet shaped like an X
appropriate for climbing. Chickens have feet with sharp claws well adapted for
walking and digging in the soil. Birds of prey have long sharp claws for capturing
and tearing apart prey. Parrots feed on fruit so they have grasping feet to hold the
food while they eat.
The scales on a bird’s leg are similar to those of reptiles. The feathers that
cover their body originated from those scales. This fact is a good proof that birds
and reptiles are related.
There was a bird-reptile among the dinosaurs, the Archeopterix, which un-
like modern birds had teeth and a long tail containing vertebrae. It probably was the
same size as a crow, and was covered with feathers but had weak wings.
Anhinga: the bird that imitates Christ
The “anhinga”(diving bird) is sometime called a black heron, but it is not
a heron. It is a totally different bird that dives into the water searching
for fish. It can dive very deep because its feathers lack oil and so the
body offers less resistance to the water. The disadvantage is that if their
feathers get saturated, the birds cannot fly. In order to dry their feather,
they perch on a branch of a tree and stretch their wings to the sides to dry,
which make them look like they’ve been crucified.
FEET BEAKS FOOD
HOLDING PIERCING OR CATCHING
SWIMMING CUTTING OR PLUCKING
the author of the Yucatan,
Mexico version of this
book, Eduardo Galicia,
determined that approach-
ing the flamingoes with
boats negatively affects
them because it distracts
them and reduces their
BIRDS EMPLOY CERTAIN STRATEGIES FOR DEFENSE AND REPRODUCTION
Defense against predators
Birds are the favorite prey of many predators and therefore have developed differ-
ent tactics for survival.
Alarm cries. The ‘song’ of many birds is in reality a series of coded mes-
sages. The cries of a bird can be recognized by many other species that transmit the
warning calls as well. There are warning cries of different intensity depending on
the degree of danger. Birds also emit a sign when the danger is over.
Camouflage. The plumage of many birds helps them camouflage well with
their environment. Birds like ducks, quail, coastal birds, owls, and finches have
brownish speckled feathers that blend with the background and are a defense mecha-
nism. Birds living in dense forests such as parrots and parakeets are partially or
totally green to blend with the foliage.
A very special tactic is counter-shading: in coastal birds, such as gulls, the
upper part of the body is darker because it receives most of the light, while the lower
portion that is less exposed to light is whiter. This light-shadow effect makes it
more difficult to see these birds on the beach.
Other birds have white streaks on the tails or near the tail to distract the
predator away from the body. This way, if the predator grabs the tail feathers, the
bird can still escape. This feature can be seen in the white-tailed pigeon.
Competition for reproduction
Many behaviors exhibited by birds are the result of reproductive tactics. These include:
Territoriality. Many birds defend their territory against other members of their own
species, especially males, but also against members of other species. They defend
their territory because of food, or for breeding and/or nesting grounds. Other birds
are territorial only during the breed-
ing season for three basic purposes:
a) Space out the mating pairs
b) Space out the nests, avoid-
ing the possibility of all the
nests being attacked by
predators at the same time
c) Guarantee the food supply
by spreading the nests and
Territoriality depends on the so-
cial behavior of the bird, and varies
greatly from species to species.
Courtship and breeding systems: Courtship behavior among birds is very diverse.
Some males attract the females’ attention with complicated techniques that range
from dances, to strutting, to nest building, or to simple chance encounters. After the
females select their partner, they follow different mating patterns. Many birds are
monogamous. This behavior is often found in birds that live in harsh or adverse
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
A females “reinita” asks the mirror this famous question. “The male” says the
mirror. The male of the American red “reinita” is much prettier than the fe-
male. Their back is black, the chest is white, and it has orange stripes on the
chest, tail, and wings. The females have a similar pattern on their wings and
tail, but the colors are different: yellow and brownish. In many species of birds,
the difference between the male and the females is dramatic. In the “reinita”
family, many males have color patterns totally different than the females, and
those colors are usually brighter as well. Another example of this is the honey
birds, the “oropendulas”, and the tanagers. The males look at the other males
during courtship. Other males have dark spots that are hidden but are proudly
shown to their prospective mates during courtship.
when a Tiger Heron is be-
ing courted by a mate, or
when something scares
them, the bird makes deep
roaring sounds that many
people think could only be
coming from an animal as
big as a tiger, and that is
why they were given their
environments that require both parents to care for the chicks until they become
adults. Hawks are good examples of monogamous and territorial birds.
There are several forms of polygamy among birds. Polyandrous females lay
more eggs if more than one male fertilizes them. They also leave the males with the
responsibility of caring after the nest and the chicks. Such is the case of the jacanas
or “lily trotters”. Polygyny occurs in the majority of the cases when nesting grounds
or territories are scarce, and a male with a good territory can have several females
with which to mate.
Nests. Used for holding and protecting the eggs, also keeps young birds from leav-
ing the parents until they are ready to fly and become independent. Nests are also
characteristic of each species. It is usually located at a place difficult to reach by
predators. Depending on the species, nests can be found in the grass, crevices,
rocks, canopy, roofs, or inside tree trunks – just to name a few. Birds use all kinds of
materials to build their nests, from twigs and small branches, to feather down and
even newsprint. Sometimes the nests are very simple structures. In other cases, like
with oropendolas, they are complex woven structures. The nests of the Montezuma
oralpendula look like bags hanging from the tree branches. Other birds take advan-
tage of nests built by other birds. Sometimes the males build the nest as part of the
courtship ritual. In woodpeckers and kingfishers both the male and the female
cooperate in nest building.
The color and shape of the eggs
depends on the nest. Those spe-
cies that nest on the ground gen-
erally have spotted or mottled
eggs as a type of camouflage.
Those that nest in the trees have
greenish or bluish eggs with or
without markings. Those that nest
in dark crevices lay whitish eggs
that are easy to see by the parents.
Parental care. Chicks have a sort
of “beak tooth” or outgrowth at
the tip of their beak that helps
them break the eggshell. They
share this characteristic with rep-
tiles and some amphibians. Some
lose this “tooth” when they hatch,
while others reabsorb it.
Chicks need parental care. They
cannot regulate their body temperature and therefore they need to be kept warm and
be fed periodically. The mouths of the chicks have bright colors and they are very
large, helping parents place the food in their gaping mouths; and at the same time it
elicits their parental instincts and cues them to feed the chicks. The parents teach
the chicks how to eat and fly. In the majority of the cases, the chicks cannot learn by
themselves, but amazingly some learn to fly without any practice.
Who says birds do not produce milk?
Similar to mammals, two species of birds feed their young with a sort of
“milk” produced by both parents. One good example of this ability is the
“crop-milk” produced by pigeons. This liquid is produced in the “crop”, a
sac-like structure connected to the esophagus. Birds can store food rapidly
in the crop, reducing the time they are exposed to predators.
The crop-milk is very nutritious. Domestic chickens were fed this
food during a test and afterward they were 16 % heavier than the rest of the
animals feed a normal diet. This liquid has more fat and protein than cow’s
milk and mother’s milk, it is the only food that pigeon chicks get for several
days after birth, and both parents feed the chicks with their milk. The young
pigeons are not fed insects like chicks of seed-eating birds because the crop
milk provides the necessary proteins.
Another bird that uses a type of milk is the flamingo. Their milk
has more fat but less protein than the crop milk of pigeons, and it is not
made in the crop. They young flamingoes are feed this milk for two months.
So the next time you visit a farm, remember that cows are not the only
animals that produce milk.
the yellow ball you can see
on the beak of the Great
Curassow is made from a
tissue similar to that of the
beak, but it is much softer.
Only the males have the
feature, and use it to at-
Careful how you act!
Social behavior can vary considerably between birds. Some birds are solitary; others
live in pairs all year long, and some form pairs only during the breeding season.
Other birds like the cattle egret establish colonies of hundreds of birds.
Vocalizations are another part of social behavior. There are two types of
vocalizations: calls and songs. Most birds use the calls on a daily basis to commu-
nicate danger, alarm, and the discovery
of food. They are short notes, non-musi-
cal, that can be heard all year long. Songs
are longer and more complex vocaliza-
tions frequently used by adult males dur-
ing the breeding season. In some species,
the males and the females sing together.
The songs have individual variations, to
recognize familiar birds in neighboring
territories, and also intruders.
The success of the males of some
species depends on the complexity of
their songs. The longer, more varied, and
harmonious the songs, the greater success
the male might have in obtaining a mate.
Frequently the songs are accompanied by
visual displays or “shows”.
Some males that do not participate in nesting, present a
“show” or group courtship in places known as “leks”. They also
do this to defend their territories, emphasize the colors of their
feathers, or to show other prominent features. Birds hardly ever
resort to active fights, thanks to the communication through songs
Migrations. When birds move from one living location to an-
other they are defined as migratory birds. Some birds migrate
from the Northern Hemisphere where they reproduce during the
spring and then move south to avoid the harsh winters. This
type of migration is called longitudinal migration.
Other birds move within the same region, spending part of
the year near their reproductive grounds, then when food starts
to decrease, they move to other areas where food is more
abundant. Examples of this type of bird are the quetzal, and some species of
parrots and macaws.
There are approximately 80 species of birds that reproduce in North America
and spend part of their non-reproductive period in regions near to their reproductive
grounds, only for feeding purposes; among them we have certain species of vireos,
tanagers, and flycatchers.
Mixed species flocks. Among tropical birds we find a curious phenomenon: mixed
flocks. These groupings of birds of different species are a defense strategy, where
members of the flock are encouraged and allowed to join in or leave.
the macaws, parrots, and
parakeets are all very social
animals? They gather in
designated places to spend
the night, and during the
day they disperse in small
bands searching for food. In
spite of being very social,
they have a single partner
with whom they mate and
spend their entire life.
Why are buzzards black?
Did you know that buzzards used to be white? According to a Maya legend, the
noblemen of Chichen Itza were preparing a banquet to celebrate the gods. The
food was then put out on the table, but everyone was still in the temple thanking
the gods. The buzzards noticed the meal and came down to sample it. The food
was so good that they decided to eat it all. When they were about to finish it, the
Mayas returned and saw the mess on the tables and the remains of the meal.
They were very mad and they made the buzzards go away.
The Mayas made a plan to take revenge on the buzzards. The next
time the banquet was ready, there would be hunters hiding behind the temple
columns ready to attack the buzzards.
When the buzzards saw the meal they came down again to feed. But
this time the hunters came out and covered the birds’ wings with black dust and
herbs. The frightened buzzards flew so high that the sun burned the feathers of
their heads and fixed the black dust to the remaining feathers of the body.
Ever since that time the Great Spirit condemned them to eat only carrion. And
from now that is what they eat!
The size and sounds of the alarmed flock can confuse and disorient potential
predators. These types of flocks typically travel over large areas. Many of the
birds abandon the flock as the distance from their territory increases. In the same
manner, other birds join the flock as it approaches their territories. Few species
remain permanently in the mixed species flock. Scientists are still trying to learn
more about the complex structure of this type of flock.
Common bIrda ot Sourbeaar MexIeo
Currently, there are close to 700 species of birds in the southeast region of Mexico.
It is difficult to mention all of them in this document, but fortunately there are
several good guides for reference, including: A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and
Northern Central America (Howell & Webb), and A Field Guide to Mexican Birds
(The Peterson Field Guide Series).
The following is a list of different habitats of southeastern Mexico, and some
of the specific bird species that can be found in each environment.
Tropical Humid Forests
This ecosystem has possibly the most numerous and diverse popula-
tion of birds. Among the most common birds in this habitat are: tou-
cans, aracaris, motmots, manakins, and antbirds. There are also some
birds that are not exclusively Neotropical such as the trogons, tanagers,
flycatchers and pigeons.
Dry Tropical Forests
There are several species found here like the motmot
(Momotus), several species of parrots and parakeets, quail,
pigeons, and woodpeckers. It is also common to find orioles
and lark nests. It is also common to find flycatchers, mocking-
birds, and hummingbirds. In the Sepultura Reserve, two new endemic
species have been reported.
In the estuaries of Yucatan it is common to find a large number of birds, the most
common being the kingfishers, herons, diving ducks, and ibis. We can also find
whistling-ducks, jacanas, ducks and sandpipers.
In the mountains and highlands there are species adapted to life at higher altitudes
and lower temperatures. Among the better-known species are the resplendent quetzal,
warblers, several species of woodpeckers, and some species of owls. There are also
flycatchers and trogons. Several other species that are common in different environ-
ments as well live in the mountains. These include hawks, trogons, curassows, and
the distribution area of
the red macaw used to
include an area from
southern Tamaulipas to
South America, but in
Mexico it can only be
found now in the
m¡xed spec¡es f¡ock
Here we find marine, coastal, mangrove, estuary or other aquatic birds. These birds
eat fish but some also catch small crustaceans, turtles, or insects. These include
grebes, pelicans, beach king fisher, frigate birds, different species of herons, gulls
and sandpipers. The flamingoes of Yucatan are also well known, and very important.
This habitat includes plantations, gardens, pastures, and ranching
areas where some species of very adaptable birds nest. The most
common are the grackles, blackbirds, cowbirds and flycatchers. Other
common species are the orioles, grosbeaks, bluebirds, nightingales,
Parasites of the bird world
Some songbirds parasite others when they are nesting. In other words, the par-
ents do not care for their own young. Instead, the female lays her egg in some
other bird’s nest. These “host” birds can be a ducks, mockingbirds, or even
hummingbirds. One example of parasitic bird is the cowbird.
Some birds abandon the nest after a cowbird has laid an egg in it;
others build another nest on top of the one containing the cowbird egg, while
others throw out the parasitic egg. The majority of the birds cannot tell the
difference between their eggs and the parasitic egg though. In most cases the
parasitic egg is larger and hatches earlier that the chicks of the host bird.
The parasitic chick eats most of the food brought by the adoptive
parents, often causing the death of the host chicks. In the Yucatan Peninsula the
yellow-headed blackbird is the most common parasitic bird. It looks similar to
the brown-headed blackbird, familiar to bird watchers in North America.
the Yucatan Peninsula is the
center of endemism for
many birds? You can find
Ocellated Turkey, Yucatan
Bobwhite, Yucatan Parrot,
Yucatan Poorwill, Yucatan
Nightjar, Yucatan Wood-
pecker, Yucatan Flycatcher,
Swallow, Yucatan Jay,
Black Catbird, Grey-
throated Chat, Rose-
throated Tanager, Orange
Oriole, Mexican Sheartail,
and the Yucatan Wren.
the brown pelican can
be found on both coasts
from Canada to Chile?
Beak tooth: Small protrusion located at the tip of the beak of the chicks that helps
them break their eggshells.
Mating: Process of bringing together the males and females for reproduction.
Mixed species flocks: Grouping of birds of different species, used as a defense strat-
Parental care: Series of actions on the part of the parents to protect the young.
Polygamy: Having more than one mate at one time.
1. Birds are hot-blooded animals characterized for having their body covered
with feathers that aid them in flight. They reproduce young by laying eggs.
They are very light animals because their bones are hollow, their feathers
are soft, and their body lacks many glands. In addition to powerful muscles
- and efficient circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems - their low weight
also helps them in flight.
2. Birds differ from one species to another. Wings, beaks, feet, and feathers
should all be considered when classifying a bird as well as their feeding
habits, defensive, and reproductive strategies.
3. Many birds are temporary residents, that is, birds move from one area to
another looking for better conditions. Others live in the same area all the
time occupying habitats such as tropical forests, dry tropical forests,
wetlands, pine forests, and coastal areas.
1. Give 3 functions for bird feathers.
2. Explain briefly how coloration is achieved in bird feathers.
3. How do birds use warning calls?
4. What is the difference between monogamy and polygamy?
5. Why do birds form flocks?