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All About Birds

All About Birds

Pictograph - EagleIntroduction: Birds are probably one of the most studied creatures in science. This is because, like most scientists, they are active during the day. They usually start singing just before dawn and continue until shortly after the Sun goes down. Birds are one of the most commonly identified animals due to their bright colored feathers and melodious songs.

When asked what is the most distinguishing feature of a bird, some might say wings or flight. This is not true because butterflies have wings AND fly and are not birds. The key feature that makes a bird a bird are its feathers. No other organism (as far as we know) has feathers. These structures are used for insulation, attracting a mate, and for keeping the bird aloft.

Most birds do fly, however, as the result of having modified bones in their skeletons. Their bones are hollow; well not really. They are not as dense as other animal bones and contain large chambers containing air pockets. These make the birds lighter and able to get off the ground.

Birds that do not fly have adapted other strategies for getting around. The largest bird on the planet, the ostrich, has very powerful legs that allow it to run at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Penguins are very clumsy on land, by can literally "fly" through the water.

Another adaptation birds have developed involves mating rituals and mate selection. In almost every species of bird, the male is the more colorful, such as the male peacock shown in the image. This is because the female is the one that selects him. Many times does he not only need pretty feathers, but also needs to perform a specialized dance or build a superb nest to get her attention. Bird reproductive behaviors are some of the most widely-studied in science.

Another bird behavior that is very well studied is that of their migratory patterns. Many birds move from one place to another when the seasons change. Even though most birds are active during the day, they often migrate at night when there are fewer risks. Birds in New England often fly down to the tropics for the winter. Many birds of the Arctic often come to the lower 48 states. Birds in the southern hemisphere will sometimes migrate north, but since it rarely snows below the equator, they usually stay put. The bird that performs the longest migration of any bird is called the arctic tern (see image below right). Every fall, it travels from its summer breading grounds at the North Pole all the way to the South Pole. The next spring, it travels back up. The entire journey is more than 40,000 miles.

Birds are amazing animals. Their colors, diversity, and behaviors are why so many people enjoy watching them.

Directions for this Lesson: Answer the practice questions, watch the video, and then check the additional resources for more ways to learn more about these "living dinosaurs."

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