50 Science Supported Lesser Known Facts About BirdsNov 16, 2022
Birds. Things with wings. Winged wonders. Alternately feared and revered, avians inhabit a world only they can move about in freely. Full of magic when airborne and often almost comical on land, birds always leave us wanting to know more. Animal communicator Shannon Cutts shares 50 science backed lesser known facts about birds to delight all bird lovers.
The feathered inhabitants of our small round green and blue planet are seemingly so different than all the rest of us they are even separated out linguistically.
As in, "animals and birds".....as if birds are not animals at all, but, well, birds. So it is easy to see why birds sometimes get overlooked in animal circles as well as in animal communication circles.
Yet birds are the species voted most likely to imitate all the rest of us - as animal communicators, they are quite simply without equal.
Perhaps this is why some human animals fear birds so much. And why others of our species up-end our whole lives for the privilege of spending more time with birds.
As a species, birds exhibit more diversity than the human brain can wrap its mind around. Big, small, stocky, slender, herbivorous, carnivorous, solitary, social, flighted or flightless, even.....the more we learn, the more there is to learn.
Whether you share your daily life with a winged companion or you simply treasure the sight and sound of wild wings, you will love these 50 lesser known science supported facts about birds.
- The world's second largest and first most dangerous bird, the cassowary, may also have been the first example of a domesticated avian. Cassowaries have been known to kill humans using the four-inch "dagger toe" in the center of each foot. (PNAS Anthropology)
- The biggest bird in the world is the ostrich, standing up to nine feet tall and weighing nearly 300 pounds when fully grown. (Live Science)
- The smallest bird is Cuba's bee hummingbird. These tiny hummers measure just over two inches long and weigh in at less than one dime. And their nests? About the same size as a quarter. (Audubon)
- Some color pigments in parrot feathers have a special damage-resisting antibacterial property that scientists are still working to understand. (Biology Letters)
- Budgerigars, the world's most popular pet parrot, have exhibited contagious yawning, which is thought to be a sign of shared empathy. (New Scientist)
- Parrots can taste salty, bitter, sweet and sour just like people - but unlike people, they primarily sense taste on the roof of their mouths. (Exotic Pet Vet)
- Ostriches may not be able to fly, but they have the biggest eyes of any land animal (oh, and ostrich eyes are bigger than ostrich brains). (SciFacts)
- Even so-called "flightless" bird species still have wings. Non-flighted wings may either be fully vestigial (remnants of an earlier adaptation that has not yet been fully phased out) or functional in another way, such as penguins' use of wings as flippers to aid in swimming and ostrichs' use of wings in courtship displays. (Australian Academy of Science)
- Birds are confirmed as the closest living relatives to the ancient dinosaurs. And chickens and ostriches are confirmed as the closest living relative to the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex. (Harvard Gazette/Science Journal)
- Birds and reptiles share a common ancestor that actually predates dinosaurs. (UCSB Science Line)
- Modern birds are related more closely to crocodiles than any other reptile species. (Science Mag)
- Birds use multiple tools to communicate with each other and with other animals, including humans. Tools include sound, color and movement (behavior). Scientists believe some facets of avian sound communication mirrors human spoken language. (Annual Review of Linguistics)
- Bird migration doesn't just happen by flight. Some birds migrate on foot while others migrate by swimming. (Audubon)
- Recent estimates suggest our planet includes about 16,000 species of birds. (Science Daily)
- We share planet Earth with about 50 billion birds - six birds for every single homo sapiens. (PNAS)
- Four bird species have been inducted into what scientists call the "billion dollar bird club" - species whose populations number into the billions. The lucky inductees include the house sparrow, ring-billed gull, barn swallow and European starling. (Smithsonian)
- Contrast that with the 1,180 bird species whose numbers have dwindled to less than 1,000 individuals. (Smithsonian)
- Birds traded out teeth for a beak about 100 million years ago. Scientists still aren't sure why. (Audubon)
- The gizzard, the muscular portion of the avian stomach, has taken over the tough job of pulverizing a bird's food, much in the way teeth do for other animals. (Cambridge)
- Some birds, like penguins, do have tooth-like structures inside their mouths. The serrated ridges or spines of a penguin's mouth are backwards-facing and designed to ensure their fish dinner won't try to jump back out again. (Penguins International)
- However, the Archaeopteryx, aka the original stem-bird or "first bird," not only had teeth but also sported a bony tail and hair-like "proto-feathers" in addition to its more bird-like feathers. The term archaeopteryx translates to mean "ancient wing." (Live Science)
- Certain bird species are known to be poisonous. The best-known of these is the hooded pitohui, or pit-oo-ey, a bright orange and black songbird that carries a powerful neurotoxin in their skin and feathers. Researchers discovered pitohui like to eat toxic beetles, which is the most likely source of the neurotoxin. (Australian Geographic)
- Birds have some amazing superpowers. Penguins may not be able to fly, but they have executed jumps as high as six to nine feet straight up. (Marine Ecology Progress Series) Albatross do practically everything in flight, including sleeping. (Audubon) Owls can't move their eyes, but their heads more than compensate with a 270-degree swivel that gives them 360-degree vision. (National Geographic)
- Avian researchers have designated two umbrella bird classifications. The first, palaeognathae, translates to mean "old jaws" and refers to the earliest known modern bird species like kiwi, ostrich, emu and cassowary. Contrast that with the neognathae, or "new jaws," which includes all other modern bird species. (University of Berkeley)
- Bird feathers are grouped into seven major categories based on their function. Feathers are responsible for a lot more than just flying - they also serve to signal, insulate, repel moisture, protect, attract mates and sense where they are in space. (Bird Academy)
- Birds are the only life forms on Earth that grow feathers. However, the intricate velcro-like structures birds display today may have been nothing more than a simple hollow tubular structure back in the era of the dinosaurs. (Bird Academy)
- Different bird species have vastly different numbers of feathers based on body size, functions needed and other factors. Hummingbirds have less than 1,000 feathers, while the tundra swan has more than 25,000 feathers. Penguins may have as many as 80,000 feathers. (BirdNote)
- Birds are known for their ability to sing and vocalize using a specialized organ unique to avians called the syrinx. But some birds can also sing using their feathers. (Bird Academy)
- Bird feathers, beaks and toes are highly specialized based on the bird's geographic location, diet and habits. Similarly, not all birds have the same amount of air inside their bones, which is based on their need for flight vs swimming vs walking and perching. (National Park Service)
- While the hummingbird is not the only bird that can fly backwards, these tiny avians definitely do so with more ease than any other bird species. They can also fly straight down, straight up up, hover in place and stop completely without landing. They can even fly upside down. (Audubon)
- Bird feathers and bird bones (in most species )are designed to be incredibly lightweight. But for many bird species, the combined weight of bird feathers actually outweighs the combined weight of all the bones in the bird's skeletal system. (Science Direct)
- Some bird species have solid bones, most notably the flightless birds collectively known as ratitae (the root of this word, ratis, means "raft" in Latin). But some flighted birds have also evolved to have some solid bones in their skeleton, including the manakin, which uses their solid wing bones to create a soundtrack of sorts to accompany their intricate mating dances. (Science JRank)
- Birds cannot sweat to cool themselves. Instead, they pant, fluff their feathers, excrete waste onto their legs, head for cool water or fly to higher altitudes where the air is cooler. (Audubon)
- Research into birdsong led to the discovery that bird brains are capable of regenerating dead nerve cells. This in turn led to the discovery that human brains are capable of the same. (Smithsonian)
- All birds must molt out their feathers periodically to preserve the integrity of their function. Most birds molt in cycles to ensure they never lose the ability to fly. But certain species will molt all at once. During this period the bird cannot fly. (Stanford University)
- Birds have three eyelids: an upper eyelid, a lower eyelid, and what researchers often call avian "safety goggles" - an inner third translucent eyelid called the nictitating membrane. (University of Kentucky)
- It is thought the large size of bird eyes relative to body size may become an important predictor of ecological change and conservation efforts. (Royal Society Publishing)
- Birds only have one opening for excreting waste. This is called the cloaca, which means "sewer" in Latin. Birds release waste frequently to keep body weight low. Small birds may poop as frequently as every 15 minutes. In most bird species, this opening doubles as a vehicle for the "cloacal kiss," or act of reproduction. (Live Science)
- Some bird species sing songs to their eggs. Thus far, researchers have identified two possible reasons for this behavior: to aid in parental recognition after hatching and to speed up hatching in hot weather conditions. (New Scientist)
- Many bird species undergo a change in eye color as they mature. Researchers believe this aids in identifying potential mates based on age and sexual maturity. (Stanford)
- Birds really do have bionic vision. Not only can birds see in ultraviolet light, but they can actually see the Earth's magnetic field thanks to a special protein called Cry4 that helps with navigation and regulation of circadian rhythms. (Science Alert)
- Tool use in birds is widespread between species. Birds' choice of tools ranges from natural items like rocks, bark, pine needles and twigs to human made items like bottle caps, sponges, bells, spoons and even pipes. (ResearchGate)
- Vultures, aka "nature's janitors," play such an essential role that when a popular veterinary drug nearly wiped them out, the drug was banned and captive vulture restoration projects were initiated. Vultures can detect fresh carrion up to 62 miles away using their extraordinarily keen sense of smell. Their heads do not have feathers to aid in sanitation after a good meal. A single vulture can eat up to their body weight in carrion daily. (Lifegate)
- Birds employ all kinds of strategies to lay eggs and raise young. These can include joint parenting to single parenting to brood parasitism (laying eggs in the nests of other bird species) and even collective or group parenting. (PBS)
- Birds come up with some amazing adaptations in the name of winning a mate. Superb lyrebirds enhance their songs with the sounds of car alarms and chainsaws. Tuis have developed a second voice box which allows them to recite poetry and sing human songs. Kakapos, the endangered nocturnal, flightless parrots from New Zealand, can make their own perfume. Bowerbirds build elaborate bowers decorated with natural and human-made objects to impress the lady birds.
- Bird mating strategies fall into five general categories: parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction), monogamy, polygyny (male polygamy), polyandry (female polygamy) and promiscuity (your basic free-for-all mating bonanza). Scientists have even created an algorithm called the bird mating optimizer to help them solve complex issues that have nothing to do with birds mating. (IEEE Access)
- The decline in bird species populations is attributed to five main causes: deforestation, loss of habitat, invasive species, plastics and poisons and climate change. (Earth Day)
- Birdwatching is so popular worldwide it generates an estimated $40 billing in income and supports as many as 860,000 workers. (Earth Day)
- Birds hide their age incredibly well and some species can enjoy lifespans well into the 80s and even longer. Researchers think it may have something to do with how their bodies handle exposure to free radicals along with the ability bird brains have to regenerate their neurons. (Science Direct)
- Not only are birds the sole modern descendants of ancient dinosaurs, but the earliest avian representatives, dated at 150 million years ago, still had teeth instead of beaks. Birds are incredibly resilient, surviving even giant planet-altering asteroids. But today's birds need our help to survive the one threat that may yet overcome their kind.....us. (National Geographic)
Which of these 50 science supported less well known facts about birds is your favorite?
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