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Amazing Facts About Amazing Birds ...

Updated on January 10, 2014
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Dr. Middlebrook, former university professor, is a fiction/non-fiction author (pen name Beax Rivers), and virtual writing coach and trainer.

This Hub is dedicated to the memory of my dear, sweet mother (Celestine Middlebrook). Born in a rural country town, a farming community in south-central Mississippi, she became an avid bird watcher. She always listened for their calls, taught me and my siblings which bird was making what sound and why, and what type of behavior we could expect to see from different birds. I found it all to be fascinating, so I guess she passed along to me her love for bird-watching, a wonderful and interesting leisure activity.

Although this Hub is not about bird-watching, it presents some interesting information about birds, facts I think are interesting that I found on and edited from the Internet. Still, since I love learning about birds, I hope you'll enjoy this Hub filled with all kinds of stuff about different types of bird, and one segment on bats—the non-bird flying mammal. And, oh yeah, I've added several songs about birds to the Hub to make the journey not just interesting, but fun too.

World's Smallest Bird

The smallest extant (meaning "still alive") bird species in the world weighs less than 1 oz. (or 1g), and it is the Hummingbird. They can hover in mid-air by flapping their wings 12-to-80 times per second, depending on their species, and they can fly as fast as 34 miles per hour. They’re also the only birds that can fly backwards! Like bees, they drink the sweet nectar of flowers, but they also eat insects and spiders for protein. They can only store enough energy to survive overnight, so they're constantly just hours away from starvation. To support their rapid wing flaps, with the exception of insects, they have the highest metabolism of all animals.

Bette Midler's Awesome Rendition of Gladys Knight's "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Bird Longevity

Did you know that 75% of wild birds die before they are six months old? Even though the Sandhill Crane can have a life expectancy of 31 years, the Great Blue Herron 24 years, the Black-crowned Night Herron 21 years, and the Killdeer nearly 11 years, most birds rarely live to reach their maximum possible life span. Sadly, most of their lives are cut short from disease, accidents, or they are killed by predators.

World's Fastest Bird

The spine-tailed swift is believed to be the fastest bird as measured in straight, non-diving, flapping flight. It can fly about 106 miles per hour. They spend most of their lives in the air, and eat by catching insects as they fly. They tend to “turbo-boost” their speed when they are showing off! The second fastest bird in flight is the Frigate, which can reach speeds of 94 miles per hour, and the Spur-winged goose comes in third at 88 miles per hour.

World's Fastest "Diving" Bird

When it comes to gravity-assisted dives, the Peregrine Falcon is the world’s fastest bird. In dives, it can reach speeds beyond 270 miles per hour. However, when flying horizontally the spine-tailed swift has it beat, because the Peregrine Falcon in straight, non-diving flight can only reach a maximum of about 55 miles per hour.

World's Smallest, "Flightless," Bird

The smallest flightless bird is the Inaccessible Island Rail (length 12.5 cm, weight 34.7 g). This tiny bird is only found in a place called "Inaccessible Island," which is really an extinct volcano in the Tristan Archipelago, part of the south Atlantic British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. With only one known predator (the Tristan Thrush) the Inaccessible Island Rail is found throughout the island, and survives on earthworms, moths, centipedes, insect larvae, seeds, and berries. Its habitat, aptly titled “Inaccessible Island,” is the reason it is extant (still in existence). It provides plenty of places for the birds to be protected, including underground tunnels where they to live and breed (see picture below).

Cool video, Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds."

World's Largest "Flightless" Bird

Built tough, the largest flightless bird (and largest bird of any kind) is the Ostrich. With some weighing in at more than 300 pounds, this bird has been clocked running faster than 40 miles per hour. And, although the bird’s tennis-ball-sized eyes are bigger than its brain (it’s true, it has one of the smallest brains in the animal kingdom), its speed probably accounts for its ability to survive in Africa where lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas are always on the prowl for fowl. None of these predators can run faster than the ostrich! In fact, it is designed for speed, with long legs and strong thighs, is the fastest runner of all birds, and can outrun most other animals! With powerfully clawed feet, the ostrich can out kick Jackie Chan and packs a punch you would not want to be on the receiving end of. This bird also has a highly efficient immune system, which probably accounts for the fact that it can live up to 80 years, in the wild.

World's Largest Bird's Nests

The largest nests built by any birds are the stunning, impressive structures that are built by a species of bird called Social or Sociable Weaver. Found mostly in South Africa (Namibia, Botswana) and East Africa (Uganda and Ethiopia), these birds, with all the males in the colony working together, build elaborate, permanent nests in trees and on other tall structures (such as telephone poles). The nesting compartments of the Social Weavers of Namibia are large enough to house more than one-hundred pairs of birds. Smartly constructed, separate compartments are used for feeding, sleeping, and breeding.

Built to attract females as well as for protection from temperatures and predators, nests usually have downward-facing entrances, with inner rooms that retain heat for nighttime roosting, and outer rooms providing shade for daytime. From species to species, Social Weaver nests may vary in size, shape, materials used, and in construction techniques utilized. Using their feet and beaks to make loops and tie elaborate knots, the nests these birds construct can be as large as 25 feet wide, 5 feet high, and can weigh over one ton. There is at least one known colony of Social Weavers that is more than 100 years old.

Social Weaver Birds and Their Nest

The Woodpecker, and Why It Pecks

Woodpeckers tap an estimated 8,000-12,000 times per day. Why are they tap, tap, tapping so much? Most of the time they’re looking for food. The mainstay of the Woodpecker’s diet is insects (even though they also consume nuts, acorns, and fruit), and they tap into the bark and crevices of trees to find nests of insects. The Woodpecker’s tongue is long, and it has a glue-like substance on it to help the bird catch and keep the insects it finds. But the Woodpecker’s tapping is not only done in search of food. It is also done to mark territory, and to communicate during courtship.

These birds are built to withstand the pounding they put their heads through. They have a “built-in” helmet—a very thick skull and squashy bone that serves as “shock-absorbers” against the tapping. And, most species of Woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers that allow them to balance and steady themselves against trees. Both males and females incubate the young that are born blind and featherless. Woodpeckers mate for life and can have a life span of 10 to 15 years.

Nelly Fertado, "I'm Like a Bird."

They Fly Like Birds, Only They're Not

People once thought bats were birds without feathers (they have fur), but bats are not birds at all, they are mammals. Leviticus (11: 13-19), in the Bible, refers to bats as birds. Why? Because it flies like a bird and is similar to many birds in size. In ancient times, all flying animals were called birds. Why is it no longer considered a bird? Because now animals are classified more specifically. Bats have a live birth, do not lay eggs, and they don’t have feathers or beaks. They are warm-blooded, so scientists have classified them as mammals. Also, the phrase “blind as a bat?” It's based on false information, because not only are bats not blind, they actually have good eyesight for daylight. The thing is, they don’t have good night vision, so they use high-pitched squeaks called “ultrasound,” which humans cannot hear, to find their way around in the dark.

Bats are very helpful and useful animals. The key components of many ecosystems, bats help control insect populations, reseed deforested land, and pollinate plants, including those that provide food for humans. Bats are the only mammals that can fly, and vampire bats are the only mammals that feed entirely on blood. In fact, an anticoagulant developed from vampire bat saliva is used to treat human heart patients and stroke victims. Bats can eat anything—they have no diet restrictions. A single little brown bat (myotis) can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in one hour. Other interesting bat facts include:

  • They always turn left when exiting a cave.
  • Among the world's longest-lived mammals for its size, the bat can have a life span of almost 40 years.
  • The world’s tiniest mammal is the bumblebee bat of Thailand. It weighs less than a penny!
  • Bats do not attack people. In fact, they are afraid of humans, viewing us as predators, and will avoid us when possible.

Chickens, Chickens, Chickens!

Did you know that chickens also love chicken? That's right, chickens are cannibals! I found out the hard way, when I was a child. Until I was about ten years old, my family farmed in Mississippi, and my parents raised their own livestock. That's why I know for sure that chickens are cannibals. I've seen these birds attack and eat each other. The next sentence after this one, I'm not so sure about. But, it is said that the chicken is the closest living relative of the prehistoric Tyrannosaurus Rex—one of the largest, most fierce dinosaurs that ever lived. It's related to the chicken—the most common bird on planet earth. There are more chickens on earth than humans, and the U.S. leads the world in chicken production with 16 million metric tons in 2006. China and Brazil round out the top three producing nations. Americans consume 8 billion chickens a year.

It takes a chick 21 days to develop in the egg. It starts developing when it reaches a temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The mother hen begins bonding with her chicks, however, before they are born. She tends her nest, and will turn her egg as often as five times an hour and cluck to her unborn chicks, and they will chirp back to her and to one another. Chickens who eat free range (not caged), varied diets tend to produce healthier eggs. That's because being cage-free allows them to eat dietary minerals needed for health, and they pass these minerals on to their eggs.

Chickens need a supervisor, so there is always a "boss" chicken in a flock, and, usually, it is not the rooster. And did you know that chickens can swim? Any farmer who raises chicks and ducklings will tell you, the chicks often go into the pond for a swim with the ducks. It is said that chickens are very social animals. They will fight to protect their family and will mourn when a loved one is lost.

Finally, chicken trivia has it that in Gainesville, Georgia, (the chicken capital of the world), a local ordinance makes it illegal to eat your chicken with a fork.

A Rare Treat, Michael Jackson/The Jackson 5 Performing Their Version of Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin."

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD

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