You are on page 1of 50


Pg. 9-54
Avian Anatomy
Avian anatomy, or the physiological structure of
birds bodies, shows many unique adaptations,
mostly aiding flight.
Avian have evolved a light skeletal system and
light but powerful musculature which, along with
circulatory and respiratory systems capable of
very high metabolic rates and oxygen supply,
permit the bird to fly.
The development of a beak has led to evolution
of a specially adapted digestive system. These
anatomical specializations have earned birds
their own class in the vertebrate phylum.
(External Anatomy)
(External Anatomy)
A birds body is covered by skin and its
derivates: the beak, claws, and feathers. These
structures cover and protect the internal organs
and block the entrance of disease-causing
The skin of the birds consist of two layers; an
outer layer the epidermis and the inner layer
called dermis
The epidermis is relatively thin and consists of
flattened epithelial cells that produce keratin
The dermis is thicker and consists of a fibrous
connective tissue. Smooth muscles in the
dermis innervate feather follicles to help in the
regulation of heat
The very thin skin is difficult to suture,
usually requiring 4-0 or 5-0 suture
The feet are an exception in that they
usually have tick, prominent scales in the
non-feather regions to protect them from
Birds bruise green because they lack
biliverdin reductase
Unlike mammals, birds dont
posses sweat glands
The one major skin gland
that most birds posses is
called the uropygial gland
or preen gland located on the
dorsal surface at the upper
base of the tail
This gland secrets oily, fatty
substance and birds use
their beaks to spread around
their body
This gland is lacking in some
parrots (amazons), ostriches
and a few other species

One derivate of birds skin is
its beak or bill. It consists
of an upper and lower
mandible and is covered
with tough, horny keratin
layer that grows
Beaks vary in their hardness
and flexibility depending
on their function

Claws posses a horny

sheath derived from
specialized scales at the
end of each toe
Like beaks, they also
grow continuously
Species differ in the type Talons
of claws they posses
based on heir perching
habits and methods of
procuring food
Feathers are a unique feature of birds and they serve an
amazing variety of functions including:
Water repellency
Tactile sensation
Visual Communication
Birds have between 1000 and 25000
Feathers are made of
Keratin is produced in
the stratum corneum
and stratum
granulosum of the
Types of Feathers
Vaned or Contour
Powder Down
Contour feather
Parts of a typical
contour or vaned
remige = wing
retrix =tail
Semiplume feather
Semiplumes are
between contour
feathers and
Their primary
function is
Down feathers
Down feathers make
up the underplumage
of a bird. They are
usually concealed
beneath the contour
feathers, and their
main function appears
to be insulation against
the cold weather
Filoplumes are
always situated
beside other
feathers. They are
simple, hairlike
structures that grow
in circles around the
base of contour or
down feathers. They
usually stand up like
Not all species of birds
have bristle feathers.
Bristles are
specialized feathers
that are believed to
perform a tactile
function. They have a
stiff, tapered rachis
and few, if any barbs
that appear only at the
base of the feather
Molting is the replacement of feathers and it
occurs once several times a year depending of
the species
New feathers pushed out from below by
replacement feathers produced in the feather
Primary function is to replace worn feathers
Augmentation of breeding plumage is secondary
Molt imposes high energy demands
Song birds 2000-4000 feathers
Tundra Swan 25,000 feathers
Molt patterns reflect many selective
Social system
Food supplies
Molt is an on-going, gradual
Modified for flight
Supports flight muscles (pectoral girdle,

Withstands stress of flight
Wings fewer, fused digits

Reduced mass
Pneumatic bones- major bones hollow with struts,
air spaces connected to respiratory system

Fused bones- adds rigidity

Lack teeth- lightweight beak
Skeletal System
The bird skeleton is highly
adapted for flight. It is
extremely lightweight but
strong enough to withstand
the stresses of taking off,
flying, and landing.

Birds also have more cervical

(neck) vertebrae than many
other animals; most have a
highly flexible neck consisting
of 8-25 vertebrae

One key adaptation is the

fusing of bones into single
Pneumatic Bone
Not completely hollow, has struts
Connected to respiratory system (air sacs and lungs)
Major bones of body pneumatic (femur, humerus
and some vertebrae)
The number of hollow bones varies among species,
though large gliding and soaring birds tend to have
the most
Skeletal composition
A bird's head (skull) is dominated
by the large eye sockets
(orbits) which take up so much
space that the braincase
(cranium) is pushed to the
The skull consists of five major
bones: the frontal (top of
head), parietal (back of head),
premaxillary and nasal (top
beak), and the mandible
(bottom beak). The skull of a
normal bird usually weighs
about 1% of the birds total
The chest consists of
the furcula (wishbone)
and coracoid (collar
bone), which two
bones, together with
the scapula form the
pectoral girdle. The
side of the chest is
formed by the ribs,
which meet at the
sternum (mid-line of
the chest).
The shoulder consists of the
scapula (shoulder blade),
coracoid (see The Chest),
and humerus (upper arm).
The humerus joins the
radius and ulna (forearm) to
form the elbow. The bones
in the wing are extremely
light so that the bird can fly
more easily.

The hips consist of the

pelvis which includes three
major bones: Illium (top of
the hip), Ischium (sides of
hip), and Pubis (front of the
hip). These are fused into
one (the innominate bone)..
Main Flight Muscles
Most birds have 175 different muscle, mainly controlling the
wings, skin and legs.
The largest muscle in the bird are the pectorals or the breast
muscles which control the wings and make up about 15-
25% of a flighted birds body weight.
The supracuracoideus and the pectoral together make up
about 25-35% of the birds full body weight.
Avian Digestive Tract

Excellent example of adaptation
to diet
Highly specialized beaks such
as hummingbirds, crossbills,
and snail kite
Prepare food for swallowing
Remove poorly digested
portions (e.g. seed, snail
shells, bones)
Avian Digestive Tract
Tongue Has 3 primary roles
Collecting food sticky tongue of woodpeckers, long thin tongue hummingbirds
Manipulating food in mouth
Muscular tongue of finches and parrots for handling seeds
Fish eating birds have stiff papilla
Filter feeding birds have bristles that mesh with lamellae on bill to form sieve
Swallowing may have papilla to direct food items toward the back of the mouth
Avian Saliva

Gray jays use saliva to

make balls of food to
store in trees
Sticky tongue of
Swallow and swift
Bird-nest soup
Avian Digestive Tract
Digestive System
The crop functions to both
soften food and regulate its
flow through the system by
storing it temporarily. Members
of the order Columbiformes,
such as doves, produce a
nutritious crop milk which is
fed to their young by
Thin walled, highly
folded tube, larger
than in mammals
Stomach 2 parts
Thin walled sacks in
Glandular, produces
acids and enzymes
Muscular part of
stomach (Gizzard)
Grinds food into
small particles (teeth)
Large in herbivores
Small Intestine
Primary site digestion
and absorption
Pancreatic secretions
Bicarbonate for buffering
Liver secretions
Bile salts
Ceca blind pouches
at junction of small
and large intestine
Contain microbes
Nitrogen metabolism
Water and electrolytes
Large intestine
Absorbs water and
stores feces
cloaca is the
posterior opening that
serves as the only
such opening for the
intestinal, urinary, and
(usually) genital tracts
of certain animal
Cloacal Structure

Female Reproductive Tract
Ovary Most female birds
have one functionally ovary
(on the left)
Infundibulum - site of
Magnum - albumin addition
Isthmus - membranes
Uterus - shell gland
Vagina - transport to
Sperm storage occurs at
various sites in tract in
some species
Reproductive cont..
Males have two testis and a
rudimentary fold of tissue
called a phallus instead of a
Most bird species rub their
cloacal areas together to
transfer the male's sperm but
ostriches, rheas, strokes,
flamingos, ducks and a few
other families actually have
an erectile grooved penis on
the back wall of the cloaca to
transfer sperm.
Reproductive activity

The small species, such as cockatiels,
can be reproductively active as early as
6 months of age

Larger species, such as macaws, may
not be reproductively active until over 3
years of age

Cockatiels are prolific breeders, and
females can lay many eggs even in the
absence of a male bird

Commonly, egg-laying female cockatiels
on a seed diet become egg bound,
requiring ER medical assistance

Typically, an egg is formed in the uterus over 24 hours

The incubation period (from laying to hatching) for budgie

and cockatiel eggs is 18 to 21 days, respectively, whereas
for the African grey parrots, Amazon parrots, and macaws
it is app. 26 days

Some aviculturists allow the parent birds to incubate the

eggs and then remove the neonates from the nest at 10
days of age to be hand-fed, as is commonly practiced w/

Others will remove the eggs immediately after being laid

and place them in an incubator, then a hatcher, and then
hand-feed the neonates
Respiratory System
They lack a diaphragm,
have nonexpandable lungs
and a system of air sacs
which extend into many of
their bones.
Vocalization is by means of
a syrinx, not a larynx as in
Unidirectional air flow
System of air sacs
Average of 9

Chickens 8

Serve variety of functions
The nostrils or nares are
usually located at the base of
the beak. In psittacines
(parrots) they are located
within the area of the cere
The nasal cavity is divided
into a right and left side by a
nasal septum. This septum is
composed of cartilage and
A large sinus known as the
infraorbital sinus, surrounds
the eye and extends into the
upper and lower beak
The larynx is at the entrance
of the trachea. The opening
of the larynx is the glottis.
Birds differ from mammals in
that the larynx does not have
vocal chords and therefore is
not involved in voice
The trachea is formed by a
series of ring-shaped
cartilages, which are
completely closed in birds*
The trachea bifurcates
(divides) after entering the
thoracic cavity. The syrinx or
voice box is located at this
*easy to intubate
Anatomically, their lungs
are connected to large
thin-walled air sacs,
which appear to function
sort of like bellows rather
than like lungs, such that
they have a minimal
blood supply and they
are not involved in gas
The nine air sacs also act Oxygen exchange in the
as a cooling system since
birds do not have sweat bird occurs on inspiration
glands. and expiration
Renal System
Mammalian and reptilian type nephrons are
present, therefore birds produce liquid urine and
pasty white urates
Note that kidney in birds is not measured by BUN

and creatinine levels, but by levels of uric acid

Cardiovascular System
Birds have very efficient cardiovascular systems that
permit them to meet the metabolic demands of flight (and
running, swimming, or diving).
The cardiovascular system not only delivers oxygen to
body cells (and removes metabolic wastes) but also plays
an important role in maintaining a bird's body temperature.
The avian circulatory system consists of a heart plus
vessels that transport:
-oxygen and carbon dioxide
-waste products
Birds, like mammals, have
a 4-chambered heart (2
atria & 2 ventricles), with
complete separation of
oxygenated and de-
oxygenated blood.
The right ventricle pumps
blood to the lungs, while the
left ventricle pumps blood to
the rest of the body.
Avian hearts also tend to pump more blood per unit time
than mammalian hearts. Cardiac output is influenced by
both heart rate (beats per minute) and stroke volume
(blood pumped with each beat). The renal-portal system
(that system in which blood from caudal half of body can
go to the kidney before going go the heart) exists in these

Related Interests