Spinning tales about birds


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This young cardinal likely evolved from therapod dinosaurs. <i>Photo by Brett Pigon</i>

Supposedly, birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs.  Worldwide, there are more than 10,000 species. 

The largest bird is the ostrich; it is flightless.

Research suggests that after the demise of dinosaurs, a flying bird like the ostrich’s ancestor was able to forage on the ground. Over time, it grew bigger and ultimately lost the ability to fly. An ostrich egg weighs three to five pounds, the size of a cantaloupe, and takes two hours to hard boil.

The smallest species is the bee hummingbird. Why the hum? The wings beat fast (hum) as they hover like a helicopter. Flying backwards is also possible. Its egg is the size of a pea, and the nest is one inch in diameter. An adult may reach 0.071 ounces.

Two categories classify newborns. An altricial bird, such as a songbird or hummingbird, is born featherless or sparse, eyes closed, and helpless. A precocial bird, such as a duck or shorebird, is born down covered, eyes open and active. 

The black-necked stilt, a shorebird, may leave its nest within one hour of birth; it readily combs the shallow water for food. Yet, an altricial bird gains independence sooner.

When a nestling (completely dependent stage) matures, it leaves the nest and becomes a fledgling. It may not fly well and often hops around, vulnerable to predators. Identifying features are short flight feathers on wings and tail. Generally, the parents guard nearby. 

Distinguishing age relies on molt patterns and plumage. The feathers of a young bird are less organized and stubby. Sexual maturity varies. A smaller bird matures earlier — the northern cardinal takes one year, and the bald eagle takes four to five years.

Communication abounds. Even before birth, a chick inside an egg issues calls to parents. A bird releases short and simple calls for flight and danger; an intricate song attracts a mate or declares territorial defense.

Singing is learned early. A nestling memorizes. As a fledgling, it practices for months. One song or more is memorized with varying versions. The brown thrasher song types exceed 1,000.  

The mockingbird, Florida’s state bird, is a songbird that can mimic other birds, insects, frogs, cats, and even squeaky doors. Its own varied and repetitive vocals may last all night in the springtime.

The phrase “eat like a bird” is misleading since a bird may eat twice its weight daily. Feeding waterfowl white bread crumbs causes malnutrition, as nourishing food is shunned.

A bird’s heart beats up to 1,000 times per minute when flying. A bird does not sweat. 

Indeed, birds are essential. They eat insects, pollinate and disperse seeds. Moreover, especially during the breeding season, breathtaking colors are displayed.  

Birds are such treasures.