How Much Do You Know About Birds?
Many of us are fascinated by birds. It’s no wonder when we see wonderful photos in bright colors showing so many varieties of birds. Did you know there are about 10,000 different species? Close to seventy percent of those are found in the rain forests. In the United States, households have 40 million birds as pets these days.
I bet you already know the ostrich is the largest bird, but did you know one might run as fast as sixty miles an hour? Not to mention that an ostrich egg may be the size of a cantaloupe.
The smallest bird as you would expect, is the hummingbird. One in particular, the bee hummingbird is less than 2 inches long.
Speaking of hummingbirds, they are the only bird that can fly backwards, upside down, and hover, thanks to their wing beat of 50 times a second. It also has a rotating wrist which is located within their wing bones. Plus, unlike other birds, they rotate their upper arm (what I would call the shoulder), rather than flapping it up and down like most birds.
Can you guess what the most common bird is? It is the chicken, which also happens to be the most used form of animal protein eaten in our country.
CUSTOM DESIGNED BODIES
Their little (or big) bodies are remarkable. Would you expect birds to have fingers and knees? They may have knees, but that is not what is usually not visible since they are covered by feathers. The bend we can see in their legs is at the ankle, not the knee.
While most birds have three or four toes, the ostrich only has two. It’s toes are similar to an antelope hoof. If a bird runs on the ground, it will usually have three toes pointing forward, while perching birds have the three forward but an additional one that points back for gripping.
Feathers on many birds weigh more than their bones. Hollow bones help them fly. Even the hollowness varies between species. If a bird goes in the water it will contain less air.
To have the strength to fly, each day birds might eat as much as twenty percent of their weight.
The familiar little wren we see everywhere may feed her babies 500 times in an afternoon. Spiders and caterpillars are favorites. That’s a lot of trips hunting and feeding!
Roadrunners will eat anything they can catch, from rodents to lizards and spiders. They will even jump to catch hummingbirds.
Lots of bird varieties will stop by your hummingbird feeder for a drink too. Over seventy different species have been known to enjoy a sweetened drink now and then.
Some woodpeckers eat 2000 ants a day! Its tongue can be as long as 4 inches, which no doubt helps.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE MOVIE, THE BIRDS?
I never gave much thought to how they made the movie. Today with computer generated graphics, it might seem easy. But The Birds was released in 1963. It was a little bit different then, including the regulations of animal treatment. For instance, the seagulls in the movie were fed wheat and whiskey so they would stay put and be less likely to fly off. Would that happen today?
The birds that hovered and threatened Tippi Hedren were actually attached to her by clear nylon threads. They couldn’t fly away! Next time we watch the movie we will all be looking to see if we can tell.
GAGGLES OF GROUPS
Why do you suppose a group of crows or ravens is called a congress or a murder?
Owls gathering are sometimes known as a parliament. Chickens as peeps. We have gaggles of geese. The strangest I found though are flamingos. Their group is known as a flamboyance. Yes, really.
A couple of other interesting facts about flamingos; they eat with their bills upside down. They can fly as fast as 35 mph. In the wild they might live to thirty years, in captivity, up to fifty years. They also prefer to be in a large group.
The albatross is another bird I would enjoy learning more about. While three-fourths of wild birds live less than a year, the wandering albatross may reach eighty years of age. Looking at a photo it looks similar to a sea gull, but is distinctive. It’s a large bird that may weigh twenty pounds or more, and has a wingspan up to eleven feet.
I was amazed to learn that the albatross can soar without flapping its wings for six hours. It is a very powerful flier that is generally seen on land only when breeding.
Did you know the saying “albatross around your neck” came from the poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel T. Coleridge. In the poem, when a sailor kills an albatross, he is made to wear it around his neck as punishment for harming that particular bird. The saying relates to something you have done that causes continuous problems that get in your way.
INTERESTING TIDBITS ON BIRDS
- The pelican’s pouch you see beneath its beak can hold as much as 2.5 gallons of water, and/or 25 pounds of fish.
- Bald Eagle nests are huge, often 9.5 feet across! The largest nest weighed nearly 3 tons.
- The goose was the first bird to be domesticated.
- Some birds sing in tones too high for the human ear to hear. Starlings are one.
- Woodpeckers can identify each other by the sound of their beaks hitting a tree.
- In the US alone, cats kill well over a billion birds a year. The figure may be as high as 3 billion.
- Penguins may jump as high as 6 feet.
- An owl’s eyes won’t move, but its neck will turn almost a full circle.
- You won’t hear an echo from a duck quack.
- The cassowary can kill with one kick. It is considered the most dangerous bird.
- Peregrine falcons catch prey by first hitting it with their talons, balled up as fists. Then they catch it as it falls. They can reach speeds up to 200 MPH when diving.
As it turns out, birds are even more fascinating to me now. To see the peregrine falcon dive, or watch an albatross soar above sounds like a wondrous thing to see. I can tell I will have to do more research. We haven’t even looked at the birds in the rain forest yet. Next time you see a bird, give thought to the truth that he is but one of 10,000 species.
Much more than simply a bird.