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Birds: Freaky Evolutions

Updated on March 18, 2015

Descendants of Dinosaurs

In my article Dinosaurs With Feathers: Fascinating Aspects I highlighted the reasons dinosaurs being the originating source for feathers on modern birds. In the article Top Five Strangest Evolutionary Traits I highlighted that birds, being the descendants of dinosaurs, retained some physical aspects of their dinosaur ancestors. In this article, I am going to acknowledge some of the more surreal evolutionary traits that birds have acquired over the years. Some of these evolutionary traits were meant to help compensate for the overspecialization of certain species. Some birds, like the hummingbird, look cute, but due to its body needing constant nourishment, certain physical modifications had to be developed. Another bird, the Shrike, was a predatory bird that did not possess the caws of its prehistoric ancestors, evolution gave it the necessary amount of intelligence to used its surroundings as a substitute tool for gripping prey. Another flying bird, the Harpy Eagle was similar to the Cassowary in that they both possessed traits that supported the idea that birds were the descendants of predatory dinosaurs and could still retain that ancient ferocity that the ancient creatures most likely had. Mostly by the use of the giant talons that had giant claws that could grip huge amounts of meat while flying off. Birds were freaky not only because of the scientific evidence that they came from giant reptiles that were anatomic opposites compared to birds, but nature has decided to gift some birds with unique abilities and features that emphasized how evolution could grant creatures some unorthodox gifts.

For a bird whose life was spent primarily in the air, getting a tongue that could catch things in the air was useful. And terrifying.
For a bird whose life was spent primarily in the air, getting a tongue that could catch things in the air was useful. And terrifying. | Source

Hummingbird

Hummingbirds were some of the smallest bird specimens ever. One of the more interesting aspects about the hummingbird's anatomy was made to give it some impressive flight patterns. Unfortunately, the hummingbird needed a lot of energy to be able to stay aloft. Especially since its wings were made to beat endless at a rapid pace every time this bird flew. As a result, this particular bird needed energy to keep up with its body. Thus the evolutionary changes that the tongue of the hummingbird came into play. Used to gather flower nectar, tree sap, insects, and pollen, the tongue of a typical hummingbird was the freaky aspect not a lot of people want to know about the hummingbird. For one thing, the hummingbird's tongue was twice as long as its beak, which made it suitable at getting the nectar inside of a flower. To have the capability to acquire the nectar inside of a flower, the hummingbird's tongue was basically a pair of tubes which opened-up when the tongue reached the flower's nectar. Now opened, the two tongue segments could catch nectar while the hummingbird was flying. Once ready to move onto another flower, the two tongue segments rolled into its previous position and retreat back into the bird's mouth. Amazingly, this process took a few seconds to perform. Of course, the perform this action, the tongue had to undergo some changes. Magnified using modern electron microscope images, the viewer could see the horror that was the tongue of the world's tiniest bird. This tongue basically looked like some nightmarish worm without any eyes. And since this tongue could split into two tubes, its forked tip looked like something from a snake, which was more strange than scary. But still very weird.

Shrike

Dimosaurs in the media were portrayed as being both vicious and intelligent. When it came to humans, dinosaurs were able to elude humans long enough to become credible threats to the more evolved species, and vicious enough that all predatory dinosaurs were capable of causing untold amounts of carnage whenever they were interacting with humans. Needless to say, birds provided specimens where people could see displays of both intelligence and savagery. Specifically, the shrike. Primarily inhabiting Africa and Eurasia, the shrike looked like any generic tiny bird. Ironically, the shrike has developed an interesting method of consuming food while sitting. Once this bird found its prey, it grabbed the prey, flew it to a particularly thorny branch, and proceeded to impale the victim onto a thorn. Nature normally gave different creatures strange methods and abilities when it came to getting food, but those creatures were normally invertebrates or predators that actually rather low on the food chain. This was a bird, a creature that could have picked a less gruesome method of feeding. And not only was its feeding via impaling a freaky way for it to consume its diet of small lizards, mice, snakes, insects, and other birds, this form of feeding was used in the shrike's mating rituals. By filling a thorny bush or cactus with freshly impaled victims, the male shrike basically told the female shrike that he could provide an ample supply of food within his territory. With a display that stated that this area was filled with enough food to raise a family, both shrikes become a mated pair and find their own place to fill with the impaled bodies of their food supply.

All creatures developed some method of keeping their food in one place. This bird used the impalement of sharp objects. Which kind of made sense on some level.
All creatures developed some method of keeping their food in one place. This bird used the impalement of sharp objects. Which kind of made sense on some level. | Source
A harpy eagle with a fresh kill. Note the giant claws.
A harpy eagle with a fresh kill. Note the giant claws. | Source

Harpy Eagle

Predatory birds, referred to as raptors, were most likely the most physically imposing of the bird species. Take the Harpy Eagle for example. This was a bird that could do things that one would think was impossible for a bird. Take for instance, its claws. With a crushing grip of 530 pounds per square inch, this bird had a stronger grip than an average human, which was about 60 pounds per square inch, and the grips of dog and wolf bites, which were 320 and 400 pounds per square inch. And like all raptors, this bird used its grip to catch prey, take them somewhere safe, and consume them safely. And even its claws were freakishly large. This bird's talons were 5-inches, which were the size of grizzly bear claws. The Harpy Eagle was built to easily catch prey from the trees, which came in handy because one of the sources of food this bird ate was the Sloth. And if one were to see a Harpy Eagle eat its prey, the display of brutality and efficiency in its hunting abilities was quite visceral. Like a Jaguar who used its fangs to crush the skulls of its prey, the Harpy Eagle used its claws to also crush the skulls of its prey, but also crunch bone, pierce the spinal cord, rip through flesh, this was a bird that put the cinematic depictions of of prehistoric ancestors killing and eating humans to shame with the efficiency of how the Harpy Eagle could kill its victims with minimal collateral damage. But it made sense since this bird perfected its hunting abilities through generations and natural evolution.

Evolution

Birds were the descendants of dinosaurs. While they were capable of surviving the event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, that did not mean that birds could not stop developing new ways to adapt to its ever-changing surroundings. This has resulted in some interesting evolutionary traits. Mostly freaky ones.

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    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      " Sadly, the only thing that will do them in now are humanity and the lack of habitat."

      Why don't they just evolve some more?

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "Birds were the descendants of dinosaurs."

      No, they weren't.

    • Jake Peralta profile image
      Author

      Jake Michael Peralta 3 years ago from Indio, California

      Or some intergalactic disaster. Who knows.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Birds and reptiles evolved, as they were capable of doing it. Survival of the fittest was always the way to ensure survival of the species, but these animals took it several steps further to become what they are today. Have they changed much? Not really. Sadly, the only thing that will do them in now are humanity and the lack of habitat.

    • Jake Peralta profile image
      Author

      Jake Michael Peralta 3 years ago from Indio, California

      Uh, the shrike impaling living things on thorns is beautiful?

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      I love the birds we have now. They are all beautiful to me. I don't believe in evolution, I believe that God made all the beautiful birds. It was an interesting hub and voted up.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      The shrike is brutal, lol.

    • Jake Peralta profile image
      Author

      Jake Michael Peralta 3 years ago from Indio, California

      Thank you.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Very interesting article, jake. What drew me in was the image of a bird's tongue, though. I thought "What the hell does a really monstrous-looking split worm have to do with bird evolution?". Of course, when I found out it was a hummingbird's tongue and read on, it became clear. Great example of the power of images to draw in and supplement a well-written article. Great videos, too.

    • profile image

      Fire8storm 3 years ago

      Hi Jake, great article. Really interesting to see how evolution has provided for various species and the skills and abilities they have as a result. Although that harpy eagle looks a mighty scary creature!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is really interesting. Gives me an insight into how we need to evolve to survive.

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