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INTRODUCTION Bird, animal with feathers and wings. Birds are the only animals with feathers, although some other animals, such as insects and bats, also have wings. Nearly all birds can fly, and even flightless birds, such as ostriches and penguins, evolved from flying ancestors. Birds are members of a group of animals called vertebrates, which possess a spinal column or backbone. Other vertebrates are fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Many characteristics and behaviors of birds are distinct from all other animals, but there are some similarities. Like mammals, birds have four-chambered hearts and are warm-blooded²having a relatively constant body temperature that enables them to live in a wide variety of environments. Like reptiles, birds develop from embryos in eggs outside of the mother¶s body. Birds are found worldwide in many habitats. They can fly over some of the highest mountains on earth as well as both of the earth¶s poles, dive through water to depths of more than 250 m (850 ft), and occupy habitats with the most extreme climates on the planet, including arctic tundra and the Sahara Desert. Certain kinds of seabirds are commonly seen over the open ocean thousands of kilometers from the nearest land, but all birds must come ashore to raise their young. Highly developed animals, birds are sensitive and responsive, colorful and graceful, with habits that excite interest and inquiry. People have long been fascinated by birds, in part because birds are found in great abundance and variety in the same habitats in which humans thrive. And like people, most species of birds are active during daylight hours. Humans find inspiration in birds¶ capacity for flight and in their musical calls. Humans also find birds useful²their flesh and eggs for food, their feathers for warmth, and their companionship. Perhaps a key basis for our rapport with birds is the similarity of our sensory worlds: Both birds and humans rely more heavily on hearing and color vision than on smell. Birds are useful indicators of the quality of the environment, because the health of bird populations mirrors the health of our environment. The rapid decline in bird populations and the accelerating extinction rates of birds in the world¶s forests, grasslands, wetlands, and islands are therefore reasons for great concern.
Birds vary in size from the tiny bee hummingbird, which measures about 57 mm (about 2.25 in) from beak tip to tail tip and weighs 1.6 g (0.06 oz), to the ostrich, which stands 2.7 m (9 ft) tall and weighs up to 156 kg (345 lb). The heaviest flying bird is the great bustard, which can weigh up to 18 kg (40 lb).
Parts of a Bird¶s Body
they must be renewed periodically. modern birds have toothless. called retrices. This lid is a thin. Wings may be long or short. the first toe. They are protected by three eyelids: an upper lid resembling that of humans. a lower lid that closes when a bird sleeps. soaring. and species identity to one another. collectively called plumage. which may consist of gliding. They also serve as insulation. Nearly all birds have a tail. depending on the type of food a bird eats. The shapes of bird tails vary more than the shapes of wings. climbing. or outer layer of skin. points backwards. The ears of birds are completely internal. Birds use their beaks to preen their feathers. and carrying and manipulating food. and a third lid. which are specialized structures of the epidermis. pointed. Beaks occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The main component of feathers is keratin. and shapes of feathers help birds to signal their age. swimming. Most adult birds molt²lose and replace their feathers²at least once a year. and in many birds. The eyes of birds are large and provide excellent vision. Wings are powered by flight muscles. Because feathers are nonliving structures that cannot repair themselves when worn or broken. supports the flight muscles. Birds have two legs. Instead of heavy jaws with teeth. called a nictitating membrane. trapping pockets of air to help birds conserve their body heat. capturing prey. starting from the side near the beak. translucent fold of skin that moistens and cleans the eye and protects it from wind and bright light. lightweight jaws. sex. Some birds have plumage that blends in with their surroundings to provide camouflage. round or pointed. rounded. Preening removes dirt and parasites and keeps feathers waterproof and supple. Tails may be square. which are the largest muscles in birds that fly. a flexible protein that also forms the hair and fingernails of mammals. Unlike humans or other mammals. with openings placed just behind and below the eyes. a large bone shaped like the keel of a boat. The paired flight feathers of the tail. the lower part of each leg is called the tarsus. often making use of oil from a gland at the base of their tails. Bird toes are adapted in various species for grasping perches. that sweeps across the eye sideways. possibly because tail shape is less critical to flight than wing shape. This helps them to open their mouths extremely wide. Feathers provide the strong yet lightweight surface area needed for powered. In most birds. textured feathers called auriculars form a protective screen that prevents objects . social status. textures. have ornamental tails that they use to attract mating partners. or forked. Bird wings are highly modified forelimbs with a skeletal structure resembling that of arms. helping these birds escape notice by their predators. depending on the lengths of the retrices and the way they terminate. Most birds have four toes on each foot. called beaks or bills. colors. or flapping. extend from the margins of a bird¶s tail. The breastbone. called a hallux. including all songbirds.All birds are covered with feathers. which helps them control the direction in which they fly and also plays a role in landing. Many male birds. The varied patterns. birds can move their upper jaws independently of the rest of their heads. aerodynamic flight. Smaller feathers called coverts lie on top of the retrices. Flight muscles are located in the chest and are attached to the wings by large tendons. such as pheasants. The shape of a bird¶s wings influences its style of flight.
although in birds the left and right portions are fused together. along with a surprising degree of intelligence. an organ that is comparable to the voice box of mammals. The respiratory. especially taking off and landing. . birds need an abundant supply of oxygen. To sustain this high-speed metabolism. reflect the evolution of birds as flying creatures. significantly lightening her load. modern birds are toothless. The throats of nearly all birds contain a syrinx (plural. where nerve impulses from the eyes are processed. or breathing. However. Parts of the bird brain that are especially developed are the optic lobes. Two groups of birds. the reproductive organs of birds atrophy. For further weight reduction. Birds rely on their ears for hearing and also for balance. including flightless ones. In keeping with their enormous energy needs. and scientists believe that it may also be the source of bird intelligence. in this way they can sing two songs at the same time. which includes the chemical reactions involved in releasing stored energy from food. The furculum absorbs the shock of wing motion and acts as a spring to help birds breathe while they fly. A unique feature of birds is the furculum. and food grinding is carried out in the muscular gizzard. which coordinates muscle actions. keen balance and coordination. which combines with food molecules within cells to release energy. but small birds need more energy to stay warm. B Physical Adaptations for Flight The internal body parts of all birds. birds have a hyperstriatum²a forebrain component that mammals lack.from entering the ear. such as the wood thrush. which provide acute sensory perception. which is especially critical during flight. which is comparable to the collarbones of humans. Birds classified as songbirds have particularly well-developed syringes. the part of the brain responsible for thought in humans. The egg-laying habit of birds enables young to develop outside the body of the female. can control each membrane independently. is primitive in birds. The syrinx has two membranes that produce sound when they vibrate. The high body temperature of birds²40° to 42° C (104° to about 108° F)²provides an environment that supports rapid chemical reactions. Birds have well-developed brains. or become greatly reduced in size. Birds have lightweight skeletons in which many of the major bones are hollow. syringes). Taking flight is less demanding for small birds than it is for large ones. and instinctive behavior. Some songbirds. cave swiftlets and oilbirds. or wishbone. For example. requires a huge amount of energy²more than humans need even for running. a part of the stomach located near the body¶s core. The cerebral cortex. C Physiology Flight. outside of the breeding season. and the cerebellum. Several anatomical adaptations help to reduce weight and concentrate it near the center of gravity. birds have an extremely fast metabolism. find their way in dark places by echolocation²making clicks or rattle calls and interpreting the returning echoes to obtain clues about their environment. This part of the brain helps songbirds to learn their songs. which helps reduce the weight of their beaks.
whereas a human. A Flying Like airplanes. which beats about 160 times per minute when a person runs. so that air flows between them and less effort is needed to lift the wings. The long. Birds breathe faster than any other animal. vultures. birds can adjust their position individually. rounded wings and strong breast muscles of quail are ideal for short bursts of powered flight. to all of a bird¶s body tissues. The shape of wings. Birds that migrate and those that live at high altitudes have larger hearts. Because each of the flight feathers is connected to a muscle. Blood vessels pick up oxygen in the lungs and carry it. The circulatory system of birds also functions at high speed. Unlike humans. In contrast to the human heart. For example. the albatross¶s long narrow wings enable these birds to soar effortlessly over windswept ocean surfaces. giving birds a smooth. broad wings of storks.000 times per minute.system of birds is adapted to meet their special needs. along with nutrients and other substances essential to life. Feathers play a crucial role in flight. relative to their body size. The lungs are connected to a series of air sacs. to push the wings up. Different wing shapes adapt birds for different styles of flight. Feathers also help to minimize drag. Birds generate lift by pushing down on the air with their wings. birds often tilt so that one wing is higher than the other. III BIRDS IN MOTION The characteristic means of locomotion in birds is flight. As a bird pushes down on the air with its wings. a flying pigeon breathes 450 times each minute. might breathe only about 30 times each minute. The short. birds are also variously adapted for movement on land. a small bird¶s heart beats between 400 and 1. To turn. Conversely. which facilitate the movement of air. contributes to this effect. The same feathers twist open on the upstroke. when running. fill in and cover angular parts of a bird¶s body. a force of resistance that acts on solid bodies moving through air. Contour feathers. The hearts of birds are proportionately larger than the hearts of other animals. birds rely on lift²an upward force that counters gravity²in order to fly. However. than other birds. birds have lungs with an opening at each end. and eagles provide excellent lift on rising air currents. aerodynamic form. which are the most abundant type of feather. The wings and tails of birds have specialized flight feathers²the largest and strongest type of feathers²that contribute to lift. and some are excellent swimmers and divers. New air enters the lungs from one end. its flight feathers overlap to prevent air from passing through. in return. . and used air goes out the other end. which have an upper surface that is slightly convex and a lower surface that is concave. This action causes the air.
so that their tails act like brakes. raftlike bodies that provide stability. The emperor penguin can plunge to depths of more than 250 m (850 ft) and remain submerged for about 12 minutes. have long legs that facilitate wading. loons. They have dense feather coverings that hold pockets of air for warmth. Birds¶ agility on land varies widely among different species. When soaring. Jacanas. rest. but they can compress the air out of these pockets to reduce buoyancy when diving.Bird tails are also important to flight. however. and diving petrels. while the starling usually walks. For many bird species. which they use to propel themselves underwater. their weak feet are useful only for clinging to vertical surfaces. The American robin both hops and walks. which walk on lily pads and mud. birds spread their tail feathers to obtain more lift. Many fish-catching birds can dive to great depths. Birds have acquired remarkably diverse and effective strategies for achieving these ends. Birds that walk in shallow water. Some ducks. and Climbing Most birds can move their legs alternately to walk and run. penguins. such as the walls of caves and houses. including such distantly related types of birds as grebes. birds turn their tails downward. Running. When penguins need to move quickly. they can walk only with an upright posture and a short-stepping gait. When landing. and defend themselves against predators in order to survive. Penguins have stubby legs placed far back from their center of gravity. Swimming birds have broad. Birds tip their tail feathers in different directions to achieve stability and to help change direction while flying. For this reason. They must also reproduce and raise their young to contribute to the survival of their species. Most of these birds have webbed or lobed toes that act as paddles. migration is an essential part of survival. Others. cormorants. either from the air or from the water¶s surface. use their wings to propel themselves through the water. they ³toboggan´ on their bellies. swans. B Walking. have long toes and nails that disperse their weight to help prevent them from sinking. such as herons and stilts. and some birds are adept at climbing trees. in which they tip their tails up and reach down with their beaks to forage on the mud beneath shallow water. propelling themselves across ice with their wings and feet. The ostrich can run as fast as 64 km/h (40 mph). C Swimming Many birds are excellent swimmers and divers. including auks and penguins. Swifts. ducks. and geese perform an action called dabbling. auks. . IV HOW BIRDS LIVE Like other animals. birds must eat. can neither hop nor run.
meat. Two unusual internal organs help birds to process food. Nectar-feeders. Many seabirds. which is part of a bird¶s stomach. have strong. Most birds have a crop²a saclike extension of the esophagus. Many fish-eating birds. working into dead or living wood to find insect larvae and excavate nest cavities. birds eat insects. have toothlike ridges on their bills that help them to hold their slippery prey. Many birds. Most birds are either carnivorous. have so little food in reserve that they enter a state resembling hibernation during the night and rely on the warmth of the sun to energize them in the morning. seeds. Others use the crop to carry food that they will later regurgitate to their offspring. Birds that feed on nectar and soft fruit have poorly developed gizzards. Depending on the species. Some seed-eating birds swallow small stones so that the gizzard will grind food more efficiently. nectar. including crows and gulls. Most birds cannot store large reserves of food internally. in particular. meaning they eat plant material. meaning they eat other animals. because the extra weight would prevent them from flying. such as merganser ducks. such as hummingbirds. sleep very little. Some birds store food in their crops and transport it to the place where they sleep. which feeds exclusively on snails.A Feeding Birds spend much of their time feeding and searching for food. B Resting Birds need far less sleep than humans do. and specialized tubular or brushlike tongues. One is the woodpecker finch. which they insert into flowers. The other is the Egyptian vulture. or herbivorous. and fruit. including hawks. Woodpeckers use their bills as chisels. Birds probably sleep to relax their muscles and conserve energy but not to refresh their brains. Some bird species have highly specialized diets. the tubular organ through which food passes after leaving the mouth. Many herbivorous birds feed protein-rich animal material to their growing young. such as the Everglade kite. and shrikes. The gizzard. Meat-eating birds. which uses twigs or leaf stalks to extract insects from narrow crevices in trees. are omnivorous. have long thin bills. For . because they have a greater surface area in proportion to their weight and therefore lose their body heat more quickly. Some extremely small birds. such as hummingbirds. owls. Small birds need to eat even more frequently than large ones. has thick muscular walls with hard inner ridges. through which they draw up nectar. eating almost anything. which picks up large stones in its bill and throws them at ostrich eggs to crack them open. It is capable of crushing large seeds and even shellfish. At least two species of birds use tools in obtaining food. fish. hooked bills that can tear flesh. The thick bills and strong jaw muscles of various finches and sparrows are ideal for crushing seeds. The bills of birds are modified in ways that help birds obtain and handle food.
These birds are able to avoid falling over because of a muscle arrangement that causes their claws to tighten when they bend their legs to relax. which rarely lands on water. and often only one or a very few males actually mate. Many birds stand while they sleep. rather than a single breeding pair. meaning that one male and one female mate exclusively with each other for at least one season. Most birds mate during a specific season in a particular habitat. mimic the sounds of other birds. birds must find a suitable mate. in which case the females mate with more than one male (see Animal Courtship and Mating). or most varied songs. the sooty tern. and other groups. cotingas. some bird species are either polygynous. and even human-made items such as ribbons and tinfoil. For example. Numerous birds rely on visual displays of their feathers to obtain a mating partner. female songbirds may be attracted to males that sing the loudest. which they decorate with colorful objects such as flower petals. Birds use nests for sleeping only during the breeding season. In many species. Flying is so effortless for the sooty tern and some other seabirds that it takes virtually no energy at all. the blue bird of paradise hangs upside down from a tree branch to show off the dazzling feathers of its body and tail. birds sleep in shrubs. on tree branches. may fly for several years with only brief periods of sleep lasting a few seconds each. including the nightingale and the sky lark. such as owls and nightjars. provided environmental conditions are suitable. males gather in areas called leks to attract mates through vocal and visual displays. or mates. However. This may help males to achieve sufficiently varied songs to attract females. Most birds are active during the day and sleep at night. in courtship and breeding. Most birds have monogamous mating patterns. both males and females participate in a dramatic . and some birds sleep while perched on a branch²sometimes using only one foot. the small wading birds called shorebirds. Exceptions are birds that hunt at night. Many birds. or polyandrous. although some birds may reproduce in varied places and seasons. longest. Among many types of birds.example. Most ducks sleep on the water. fruit. These birds attract females by building bowers for shelter. The rest of the year. Among some grouse. including some jays. vision and hearing. several adults. feathers. in holes in trees. hummingbirds. including starlings. often help to raise the young within an individual nest. C Reproduction In order to reproduce. and nesting materials²for caring for their eggs and raising the hatched young to independence. Among western grebes. Birds rely heavily on their two main senses. and on the bare ground. males use song to establish breeding territories and attract mates. Among most songbirds. that is. A remarkable courtship strategy is exhibited by male bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea. as well as the necessary resources²food. water. Females visiting the leks select particularly impressive males. the males mate with more than one female.
they neither build nests nor care for their young.courtship ritual called rushing. such as the malleefowl of southern Australia. Bird parents may also wet or shade the eggs to prevent them from overheating. Nests sometimes offer camouflage from predators and physical protection from the elements. The size. such as decaying plant material. Many birds. in which females court males. blind. Among some birds. and texture of a bird egg is specific to each species. The male emperor penguin of icy Antarctica incubates the single egg on top of its feet under a fold of skin. young birds may remain in the nest for as little as part of a day or as long as several months. use tree cavities for nests. use external heat sources. color. including the phalaropes. enabling the developing embryo to breathe. Many birds establish breeding territories. which help them to incubate. In areas where suitable nesting habitat is limited. Some birds. Eggs provide an ideal environment for the developing embryo. are brood parasites. including woodpeckers. or inexperience with the behaviors necessary for survival. and incapable of regulating their body temperature. Depending on the species. so that the eggs are incubated²and the hatchlings raised²by birds other than the hatchlings¶ true parents. including pheasants. The number of eggs in a clutch (the egg or eggs laid by a female bird in one nesting effort) may be 15 or more for some birds.5 acres). For breeding. some large birds. which sometimes congregates by the thousands in areas of only about 0. Some birds. The eggs of many songbirds hatch after developing for as few as ten days. Incubation by one or both parents works together with the nest structure to provide an ideal environment for the eggs. females of these species lay their eggs in the nests of birds of other species. Instead. including songbirds and pelicans. Fledged young (those that have left the nest) may still rely on parental care for many days or weeks. Others. which they defend from rivals of the same species. Bird nests range in size from the tiny cups of hummingbirds to the huge stick nests of eagles. shape. whereas those of albatross and kiwis may require 80 days or more. predators. incubate their eggs without any type of nest at all. to incubate their eggs. An example is the crab plover. there are some types of birds. The shells of eggs are made from calcium carbonate. in which mating partners lift their upper bodies far above the water and paddle rapidly to race side by side over the water¶s surface. Many . Nests may be elaborate constructions or a mere scrape on the ground. In contrast.6 hectares (about 1. including many shorebirds. birds may nest in large colonies. such as condors and albatross. The life spans of birds in the wild are poorly known. such as cowbirds and cuckoos. most birds build nests. or warm. the rest die from starvation. such as ducks. Only about 10 percent of birds survive their first year of life. may lay only a single egg every two years. are born covered with down and can feed themselves within hours after hatching. the developing eggs. Although male birds usually court females. disease. They contain thousands of pores through which water can evaporate and air can seep in. The age at which birds begin to breed varies from less than a year in many songbirds and some quail to ten years or more in some albatross. newly hatched young are without feathers. The attending parent may warm the eggs with a part of its belly called the brood patch. Many other birds. which may weigh a ton or more.
and auditory landmarks. For example. More recently.000 mi) or more in a single year. The snipe. plumage. such as falcons and hawks. DNA is useful to bird taxonomists because closely related birds have more similar DNA than do groups of birds that are distantly related. . Many birds have highly specific and unusual defense strategies. sometimes traveling 32. The burrowing owl in North America. These include the positions of the sun during the day and the stars at night. DNA comparisons have challenged some of scientists¶ previous ideas about relationships among birds. The first bird in a flock to spot a predator usually warns the others with an alarm call. taxonomists (those who classify living things based on evolutionary relationships) have looked at bird characteristics such as skeletal structure. Many small birds feed in flocks. scientists have turned to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)²the genetic information found in the cells of all living organisms²for clues about relationships among birds. frightens off predators by making a call that sounds much like a rattlesnake. traveling between seasonally productive habitats. which lives in the burrows of ground squirrels. olfactory. as well as to avoid environments that are too hot or too cold. which may be other birds. which enables all of the geese except the leader to take advantage of the updrafts generated by the flapping wings of the goose in front. Migration helps birds to have continuous sources of food and water. Some of the most spectacular bird migrations are made by seabirds. migrating geese travel in a V-shaped formation. These inexperienced birds do not necessarily reach their destinations. V TYPES OF BIRDS There are nearly 10. and bill shape to determine which birds have a shared evolutionary history. Young birds of many species undertake their first autumn migration with no guidance from experienced adults. and visual. Traditionally. For example.small songbirds live only three to five years. many birds stray in the wrong direction and are sometimes observed thousands of kilometers away from their normal route (see Animal Migration). Migrating birds use a variety of cues to find their way. which fly across oceans and along coastlines. where they can benefit from the observing power of numerous pairs of eyes. such as snakes and weasels. the earth¶s magnetic field. Birds that feed alone commonly rely on camouflage and rapid flight as means of evading predators. whereas some albatross are known to have survived more than 60 years in the wild. D Defense The keen eyesight and acute hearing of birds help them react quickly to predators. a wading bird. E Migration Many bird species undergo annual migrations. flees from its enemies with a zigzag flight pattern that is hard for other birds to follow. or other types of animals. The strict formations in which many birds fly help them on the journey.000 known species of modern or recently extinct birds.000 km (20.
The smallest North American shorebirds.these studies have revealed that vultures of the Americas are more closely related to storks than to the vultures of Europe. feeding largely by scavenging over open water. All aquatic birds that live in saltwater environments have salt glands. which live in the southernmost oceans near the Antarctic. Shorebirds often inhabit puddles or other shallow bodies of water. which enable them to drink seawater and excrete the excess salt. Some of the widespread adaptive types of birds are discussed below. Grebes and divers. often switch between salt water and fresh water habitats during the year. whereas curlews probe with their long bills for burrowing shellfish and marine worms that are beyond the reach of most other shore feeders. geese. large wading birds may eat fish. and diving petrels are considered the most exclusively marine of all birds. These birds spend much of their time over the open ocean. or nest. have short. called stints or peeps. shrimp. storks. coming on land only to reproduce and molt. Gulls are generalists among the aquatic birds. or even inland areas. Many of the large wading birds gather in enormous groups to feed. Pelicans. C Birds of Prey . sleep. a group that includes ducks. are found throughout the world. Avocets and stilts have long legs and long bills. long-billed birds are adapted to live at the junction of land and water. Even among a given adaptive type. known for their long bills and huge throat pouches. using floating plant materials that they hide among reeds. including herons. spoonbills. Another method of categorizing birds focuses on adaptive types. wet fields. These birds wade in shallow water or across mudflats. Grebes are unusual among birds because they make their nests on the water. shearwaters. Some species of penguins spend most of their lives in the water. and swans. both of which help them to feed in deeper water. Asia. or lifestyles. or microscopic marine life. although they sometimes make their homes in marine habitats. A Aquatic Birds Aquatic birds obtain most or all of their food from the water. This system groups together birds that live in similar environments or have similar methods for obtaining food. are found on or near lakes. well away from land. Depending on the species. or similar environments to find food. B Wading Birds Many long-legged. The diversity of shorebirds is reflected in their varied bill shapes and leg lengths. Many other birds have aquatic lifestyles but live closer to land. Large wading birds. often breed on freshwater lakes and marshes. thin bills that enable them to pick at surface prey. Albatross. and flamingoes. or loons. except near the poles. frogs. Among these are penguins. ibises. along shores. storm petrels. Waterfowl. or Africa. birds show tremendous diversity.
members of a group of chickenlike birds that includes quail. such as the osprey and many eagles. form a distinctive group of tropical and southern temperate birds that inhabit woodlands and grasslands. are seed and fruit eaters but are more widespread and typically more subdued in color. whose call is mimicked by the cuckoo clock. and ovenbirds. Falcons eat mainly insects. F Other Land Birds Many other groups of birds thrive in terrestrial habitats. They have the most well-developed and complex vocalizations of all birds. and the condors and vultures of North and South America. and groundinhabiting species. D Running Birds Some birds. An example is the swallow. crows. including New Guinea and New Zealand. The ostriches and their relatives²rheas. emus. its members obtain their food during short dives in streams and rivers. and falcons. The larger hawks and eagles prey on small mammals. are nocturnal. the dippers. . have lost the ability to fly. or active at night. and swallows. antbirds. turkeys. and the oscines or songbirds. including hawks. which opens its mouth in a large traplike gape to gather food. among them the familiar sparrows. such as rodents and other vertebrates. and keen eyesight and hearing. Perching birds have been successful in all terrestrial habitats. The tinamous of Central and South America are related to the ostrich group. known for their brilliantly colored plumage. eat fish. including the largest of all living birds.Among the best-known birds are the birds of prey. These include relatives of eagles called Old World vultures. are active during the daytime. One specialized group. Typically small birds. and owls. depending on the species. is aquatic. Hummingbirds are a group of nectarand insect-feeding land birds whose range extends from Alaska to the tip of South America. Scavengers that feed on dead animals are also considered birds of prey. strong talons or claws on their feet. which live in Eurasia and Africa. South America. perching birds have a distinctive arrangement of toes and leg tendons that enables them to perch acrobatically on small twigs. which are mainly tropical and include tyrant flycatchers. and grouse. Parrots. but they have a limited ability to fly. which make up about 80 percent of all perching bird species. Some. They are divided into two main groups: the sub-oscines. like parrots. Birds of prey have hooked beaks. Others. warblers. pheasants. notably owls. The cuckoos²including the tree-dwelling species such as the European cuckoo. Some birds of this group catch and feed upon flying insects. and kiwis²are flightless birds found in Africa. E Perching Birds More than half of all living species of birds are perching birds. thrushes. Doves and pigeons. eagles. blackbirds. cassowaries. Vegetation is an important part of the diets of running birds. such as roadrunners²are land birds. and Australia. Other birds that feed primarily on the ground and are excellent runners include the bustards (relatives of the cranes) and megapodes. finches. Some birds of prey. have diets ranging from insects to fish and mammals.
For example. A given species might be a habitat specialist. think that birds evolved from an earlier type of reptile called thecodonts²a group that ultimately gave rise to dinosaurs. cassowaries. These scientists say that many skeletal features of birds. teams with birds during the short summer season. extending from Mexico to South America. to a lesser degree. tanagers. and helmet-shrikes. Despite the abundance of seabirds at its fringes. for example. Many paleontologists (scientists who study fossils to learn about prehistoric life) believe that birds evolved from small. because its birds have long been isolated from those of the rest of the world. Africa is the unique home to many bird families. Areas that are further from the equator have less diverse birds. Others. predatory dinosaurs called theropods. from southern Africa and southern South America to the equatorial parts of those continents. whereas others are cosmopolitan. or a generalist. this habitat is too cold and dry for all but a few species. The habitats occupied by birds are also diverse. including birds-of-paradise. Antarctica is the poorest bird continent. are found nowhere else. VII EVOLUTION OF BIRDS Scientists disagree about many aspects of the evolution of birds. The Australia and New Guinea region has perhaps the most unique groups of birds. secretary birds. ovenbirds. including turacos. crocodiles. These scientists assert that similarities between birds and theropod . Similar migrations from temperate regions to tropical ones exist between Europe and Africa. Some species are quite restricted. occurring only on a single oceanic island or an isolated mountaintop. Kingfishers are considered land birds despite their habit of eating fish. Tropical rain forests have high species diversity. northeastern Asia and southeast Asia and India and. and the flying reptiles known as pterosaurs. Many bird species respond to such seasonal changes by undergoing annual migrations. such as light. Emus. and several songbird groups. This part of the world is especially rich in tyrant flycatchers. The greatest species diversity occurs in the tropics in North and South America.Woodpeckers and their relatives thrive in forests. about 225 bird species breed in the British Isles²about half the number of breeding species that inhabit a single reserve in Ecuador or Peru. such as the marsh wren. such as the house sparrow. were present in theropod dinosaurs prior to the evolution of birds. Many habitats are only seasonally productive for birds. In the winter. which can thrive in a variety of environments. living in suitable habitats on most continents. with only about 20 species. hollow bones and a furculum. as do savannas and wetlands. VI HABITAT AND RANGE OF BIRDS Although birds collectively occupy most of the earth¶s surface. and hummingbirds. which lives only in marshes of cattails or tules. Large numbers of bird species that breed in the United States and Canada move south to winter in Central or northern South America. The arctic tundra. however. however. Fewer species generally occupy extremely arid habitats and very high elevations. antbirds. when food and water are plentiful. most individual species are found only in particular regions and habitats.
The Tertiary Period directly following the Cretaceous witnessed an explosive evolution of birds. Despite uncertainties about bird evolution. experienced a tremendous growth in species diversity in the latter part of the Tertiary. which was nearly wingless and had vertebrae like those of today¶s birds. Scientists also disagree about how flight evolved. Perching birds. The evolution of birds has not ended with the birds that we know today. One bird that lived during the Tertiary Period was Diatryma. During the Pleistocene Epoch. today this group is the most diverse order of birds. Studies of North American songbirds based on this approach suggest that only the earliest glaciers of the Pleistocene are likely to have played a role in shaping bird species. which dates to about 138 million to 65 million years ago. and very small. underdeveloped wings. scientists do know that numerous types of birds lived during the Cretaceous Period.4 m (about 6 to 8 ft) tall and had massive legs. Most modern families of birds can be traced back in the fossil record to the early or mid-Eocene Epoch²a stage within the Tertiary Period that occurred about 50 million years ago. and Hesperonis regalis. Others theorize that bird flight began from the ground up. when dinosaurs or reptiles ran along the ground and leaped into the air to catch insects or to avoid predators. Scientists have long assumed that the resulting isolated breeding groups evolved into the species of birds that exist today. Pairs of species that only recently diverged from a shared ancestry are expected to have more similar mitochondrial DNA than are pairs that diverged in the more distant past. which stood 1.000 years ago. from 1. a huge bill. some scientists believe that this DNA can be interpreted as a molecular clock that reveals the approximate amount of time that has elapsed since two species diverged from one another. In addition. These glaciers isolated many groups of birds from other groups with which they had previously interbred. glacier ice spread over more than one-fourth of the land surfaces of the earth. VIII BIRDS AND HUMANS . Most birds of the Cretaceous Period are thought to have died out in the mass extinctions² deaths of large numbers of animal species²that took place at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Some bird species are dying out.8 to 2. called passerines. also known as the Ice Age. Some scientists believe that flight first occurred when the ancestors of birds climbed trees and glided down from branches. which resembled a gull and had vertebrae similar to those of a fish. This assumption has been modified as a result of studies involving bird DNA within cellular components called mitochondria.6 million to 10. Because mutations in mitochondrial DNA are thought to occur at a fixed rate. the process of speciation²evolutionary changes that result in new species²continues all the time. Among these birds were Ichthyornis victor. Continued discovery and analysis of fossils will help clarify the origins of birds.dinosaurs are due to a phenomenon called convergent evolution²the evolution of similar traits among groups of organisms that are not necessarily related.
they identify birds and their songs. fish-eating birds. sometimes even using cormorants to do the fishing. Equipped with binoculars and field guides. Today certain species of birds are considered to be indicators of the environmental health of their habitats. often keeping lists of the various species they have witnessed. are capable of killing humans with their strong legs and bladelike claws. Diseases carried by birds that can affect humans include influenza and psittacosis. The earliest domesticated bird was probably the domestic fowl or chicken. This decline proved to be caused by organochlorine pesticides. when the numbers of peregrine falcons in the United Kingdom and raptors in the United States suddenly declined. such as the cassowaries of New Guinea and northeastern Australia. starlings. knowing that if the birds stopped singing. In the 19th century. may adversely impact aquacultural production. Many people enjoy bird-watching. Negative impacts by birds on humans are primarily economic. Archaeological sites reveal that prehistoric people used many kinds of birds for food. and species distribution of both domesticated and wild birds. assume religious significance in many cultures. Other long-domesticated birds are ducks. birds pose little direct danger to humans. young. and pigeons. and eggs of both wild and domesticated birds provide humans with food. Scientists who study birds are known as ornithologists. geese. These experts investigate the anatomy. Domesticated chickens existed even before 3000 BC. guineafowl. Similarly. classification. coal miners brought caged canaries with them into the mines. such as cormorants and herons. perform work for us as hunters. Blackbirds. People in many parts of Asia even eat nests that certain swiftlets in southeastern Asia construct out of saliva. Today the adults. ecology. by hawks engaging in such defense. weavers. evolutionary history. which can only reproduce within old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.Birds have been of ecological and economic importance to humans for thousands of years. A few birds. sparrows. Birds are good indicators of the quality of our environment. crows. humans are routinely attacked. A Birds as Menaces In general. which were accumulating in the birds and causing them to produce eggs with overly fragile shells. Many birds become quite aggressive when defending a nest site. An example of an indicator bird is the northern spotted owl. This decline in the bird populations alerted humans to the possibility that pesticides can harm people as well. and other birds may seriously deplete crops of fruit and grain. and occasionally killed. and other cultural purposes. turkeys. dangerous mine gases had escaped into the air and poisoned them. and. but actual attacks are extremely rare. such as DDT. Birds give us companionship as pets. in the case of hawks and falcons. Birds provided a comparable warning to humans in the early 1960s. ornamentation. People in maritime cultures have learned to monitor seabird flocks to find fish. parrots. behavior. Birds pose a greater threat to human health as carriers of diseases. derived from jungle fowls of Southeast Asia. .
songbirds are losing traditional nesting sites as tropical forests are destroyed and shade trees are removed from coffee plantations. Habitat fragmentation and reduction particularly affects songbirds that breed in North America in the summer and migrate to Mexico. the major threats to birds have been the destruction and modification of their habitats. housing developments. and other toxic elements present in agricultural runoff and in drainage from mines and power plants. or stay warm. or diminish their food supplies. because birds with oil-drenched feathers cannot fly. was hunted to extinction by humans in the 1600s. These substances may kill birds outright. the Caribbean. whose eastern North American populations may have once numbered in the billions. Central America. and rodents. Island birds have always been particularly susceptible to predation by humans. The fragmentation of habitats into small parcels is also harmful to birds. limit their ability to reproduce. Pesticides. especially farmers. humans have a long history of causing harm to birds. is another potential threat to birds. and other poisons also threaten today¶s birds. a time of explosive growth in human populations. these birds suffer from forest fragmentation caused by the construction of roads. an increase in the earth¶s temperature due to a buildup of greenhouse gases. With colonial expansion and the technological advances of the 18th and 19th centuries. caused by chemical reactions between airborne pollutants and water and oxygen present in the atmosphere. has decreased the food supply of many birds that feed on fish or other aquatic life in polluted lakes. The relentless clearing of hardwood forests outweighed even relentless hunting as the cause of the extinction of the famous passenger pigeon. Oil spills have killed thousands of aquatic birds. The dodo. Many birds are thought to be harmed by selenium. In the southern part of their range. Many birds help humans. slugs. a large flightless seabird of the North Atlantic Ocean that was easily killed by sailors for food and oil. Studies of bone deposits on some Pacific islands. a flightless pigeonlike bird on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. pollution. because it increases their vulnerability to predators and parasites.However. This time period witnessed the extinction of the great auk. and shopping malls. float. the economic benefits of wild birds to humans are well documented. such as rats. mercury. In the 20th century. and Colombia for the winter. weeds. In North America. humans hunted birds on an unprecedented scale. with some exceptions. They are therefore easy prey for humans and the animals that accompany them. For example. Because these birds have largely evolved in the absence of land-based predators. although the last one of these birds survived in the Cincinnati Zoo until 1918. Global warming. are tremendously beneficial to humans. they are tame and in many cases flightless. The Carolina parakeet also became extinct in this time period. by eating insects. suggest that early humans hunted many hundreds of bird species to extinction. including New Zealand and Polynesia. B Endangered Birds Although birds. Acid rain. . loons in the state of Maine may be in danger due to mercury that drifts into the state from unregulated coal-fired power plants in the Midwest and other sources.
including many parrots. habitat management. Sanctuaries for birds exist all over the world²two examples are the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in India¶s Keoladeo National Park. Many countries. Canada. peregrine falcons. and the National Wildlife Refuge system of the United States. by protecting the habitats of birds and other wildlife. This treaty regulates or restricts the trade of endangered birds. which protects painted storks. Such breeding programs have added significantly to the numbers of whooping cranes. the Endangered Species Act promotes species and habitat protection.Many laws have been enacted to protect birds. In North America. Many endangered birds need a combination of legal protections. Other means of protecting birds include the creation of sanctuaries and captive breeding programs. The protection of the earth¶s birds will require more than a single strategy. which is subdivided into 27 orders. In the United States. gray herons. . including the promotion of tourism. and many other bird species. are finding they can reap economic benefits. and control of predators and competitors. and California condors. humans must decide that the bird¶s world is worth preserving along with our own. some endangered birds are bred in settings such as zoos and specialized animal clinics and later released into the wild. Scientific classification: All birds belong to the class Aves. including Costa Rica. which went into effect in 1975. Ultimately. More than 120 countries signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). and Mexico protect all migratory birds native to North America. Treaties between the United States.
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