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Amazing Facts About Birds

Updated on May 14, 2013
Can this friendly toucan related to the dinosaurs that once roamed the earth?
Can this friendly toucan related to the dinosaurs that once roamed the earth? | Source

Are Birds Descended from Dinosaurs?

The hypothesis that birds were descended from dinosaurs was first proposed by Thomas Huxley in the 19th century. He observed that the fossil of Archaeoptryx, the “first bird” that had just been discovered in Germany, bore many similarities to dinosaur fossils.

Archaeopteryx are thought to be a transition between reptiles and modern birds. From fossil evidence it is thought that they were about the size of a raven, about 20” and weighed around 2 lb.

Archaeopteryx had wings and feathers, they also had big bony jaws, with sharp teeth, bony tails and 3 fingers with claws on their forelegs.

Although the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs had has gone in and out of favour, the discovery of feathered dinosaur fossils in China in the 1990s, has added support to it.

A discovery of another dinosaur fossil in China, described in the Journal Nature, showed that it's skeleton had many similarities to Archaeopteryx, that were previously thought to be diagnostic of birds. This calls into question its "original bird" designation, since it appears other dinosaurs had the same properties, but suggests that the connection between dinosaurs and prehistoric birds is very tight.

Next time you see a pigeon, you can congratulate yourself on having spotted a modern day dinosaur!

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An artist's reconstruction of Archaeopteryx, generally believed to be the transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds.Fossil of Archaeopteryx, the "original bird" discovered in GermanyA fossil of Sinosauropteryx feathered dinosaur in the Inner Mongolia Museum.
An artist's reconstruction of Archaeopteryx, generally believed to be the transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds.
An artist's reconstruction of Archaeopteryx, generally believed to be the transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds. | Source
Fossil of Archaeopteryx, the "original bird" discovered in Germany
Fossil of Archaeopteryx, the "original bird" discovered in Germany | Source
A fossil of Sinosauropteryx feathered dinosaur in the Inner Mongolia Museum.
A fossil of Sinosauropteryx feathered dinosaur in the Inner Mongolia Museum. | Source
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards | Source

Hummingbirds, the Smallest and Fastests (Wing Flappers)

The smallest bird currently in existence is the bumblebee hummingbird, which measures 2 inches and weighs under 2g.

Hummingbirds flap their wings 12-80 times per second, depending on the species. This uses up so much energy that they have to feed very frequently.

The tiny bodies of hummingbirds makes it very difficult to maintain body temperature at night, especially in cold places like the Andes mountains where many species live, and where the nights are very cold. To conserve energy, they go into a hibernation-like state of torpor every night.

They are the only birds that can fly backwards.

The hooded pitohui bird has the same toxin as the Colombian poison dart frog.
The hooded pitohui bird has the same toxin as the Colombian poison dart frog. | Source

Toxic Birds

Toxin is not something that one associates with birds. However, the hooded pitohui of New Guinea is the first toxic bird identified. The feathers and skin contain the neurotoxin batrachotoxin which is the same poison favoured by the Phyllobates terribilis, the Colombian poison dart frog.

Admittedly the pitohui is not as toxic as the frog, which has enough poison to kill adult humans, touching the bird merely causes a numbing and tingling sensation. However it does presumably deter anybody from eating it.

It is thought that it acquires its poisonous properties from eating Choresine beetles.

Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise
Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise | Source

Beautiful Feathers to Impress Females

The males of many species have beautiful, colourful plumage, this functions to convince females of the excellence of her suitor's genetic makeup, which he will pass to their offspring, should she consent to mate with him.

The archetypal example of this, is of course the peacock's tail, which he displays in its full glory when a possible mate is around.

The paradise birds of Papua New Guinea also employ the same tactics. They have beautiful colours, long tail or head decorations, and perform elaborate ritualistic dances, all to prove to a female the excellence of their genome.

All the nest building and care of the young is performed by the female birds. Since Papua New Guinea is a very rich environment, with plentiful food and little predation, the males can concentrate on looking beautiful, and leave the actual work of caring for their progeny to their women.

Their only function is to be gene donors, but the females need to be convinced that the genes passed to their babies will be excellent, before they commit to the hard work of looking after a family.

Pairs of the western grebe engage in spectacular co-ordinated dances during breeding season.
Pairs of the western grebe engage in spectacular co-ordinated dances during breeding season. | Source

Bird Courtship Rituals and Dancing Routines

Courtship in birds is very complicated. The male not only has to impress females with his songs and beautiful plumage, and by fighting off rivals from his territory, but also by engaging in complicated rituals and dancing routines.

To cement the relationship males of many birds, like hornbills, etc. etc. will offer their ladies "gifts" of pieces of fruit, or perhaps some nest building material. Presumably trying to demonstrate how well he will be able to look after their offspring, if she only accepts him.

Paradise birds are not only the species to engage in complicated dancing routines during courtship rituals. In some species, for example the grebes of North America, the male and female dance together, mirroring each other's moves.

Or, if you are a red capped manakin, you might like to do a spot of moonwalking, a la Michael Jackson.

Red Capped Manakin Strutting his Stuff to Impress his Lady

The male black throated blue warbler teaches his chicks to sing.
The male black throated blue warbler teaches his chicks to sing. | Source

Bird Song

Complex songs evolved through sexual selection. Males try to impress females with their repertoires. Females judge the fitness of a male, and of how good his genetic makeup his offspring will inherit is, by judging how impressive his song is.

This is not a completely arbitrary judgement, research with some birds has shown that parasites and disease affect songs.

Some male birds, like the black throated blue warbler, also sing after the breeding season, if they have successfully produced chicks. Warblers that did not breed successfully are silent.

The male sings to his chicks to help their development, so they become good singers in turn, and have a better chance of passing his genes on.

Birds' songs becomes modulated by the sounds they are exposed to. With many birds, only the sounds of males from the same species has an effect. Other species however, actively imitate the calls of other birds, to produce very complex songs. Listen to the amazing Australian lyre bird trying to attract a female by showing off all the sounds he can make.

The Amazing Lyrebird Incorporates Man-Made Sounds into its Song

Building Nests to Attract Partners and Rear Chicks

Most, although not all birds, build nests in which to care after their eggs and rear the chicks. Because females cannot fly with the weight of several eggs inside them, they will lay the eggs as soon as they can. It therefore takes a long time for the eggs to hatch, and the young chicks are helpless and need to be cared for.

For the Vogelkop Bowerbird of Western New Guinea, interior decorating skills are essential for attracting a mate. The male builds an impressive bower about 1 metre high out of twigs. He then decorates it by collecting colourful flowers, berries, shiny beetle casings and even dung, arranging all his collections in an artistic display. Rivals compete with each other to arrange the most aesthetically pleasing displays. These are then carefully examined by the art critic female, and determine which lucky male gets to reproduce.

You don't believe me? Check the video below!

A reed warbler feeding a cuckoo chick that was left in its nest.  You would think the warbler would notice its baby is much bigger than it is!
A reed warbler feeding a cuckoo chick that was left in its nest. You would think the warbler would notice its baby is much bigger than it is! | Source

Birds that Are Brood Parasites

incubating eggs and raising young chicks is a very energy intensive process for most birds. However, there are some, that bypass the whole hassle of parenthood by tricking others to do the hard work for them. This is officially known as brood parasitism and the most famous example of this is the European Common Cuckoos, although other cuckoo species, and other birds also engage in this deceitful habit.

The female will lay eggs in the nest of another bird. Often she has evolved so that she will lay eggs that match the colour of the species she takes advantage of, so the other bird doesn't recognise the intruder. The cuckoo chick will often hatch before its nest mates, and it will push the other eggs out of the nest, so it doesn't have any competition.

Sadly the host parents don't seem to realise that "their" chick looks quite different from expected and are tricked at feeding it and raising it as if it were their own.

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    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      What a wonderful and interesting hub! I have always thought birds descended from dinosaurs, they will prove it some day. Your choice of birds to showcase is wonderful and the pictures you have chosen are just beautiful! I really enjoyed the videos! Great information and beautiful hub! Voted up and awesome! :)

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      This hub is put together well. I learned a lot about birds. Moving from Michigan to Florida I grew in awareness of a whole bunch of birds I have never seen before. They are so beautiful and big in Florida. Voted +++

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks sgbrown. They are pretty fascinating aren't they?

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks Carly, you must have some great birds, and other animals to watch in Florida. I am jealous!

    • profile image

      Raj kumar 3 years ago

      thanks to this hub that provide many information on birds with images.

      thanks!a lot

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