Learn Some Bird Business

8th October 2019

5 Major Characteristics of Birds

  • Feathers. Feathers are the defining characteristic of Aves, found on every living species of bird and no other class of animal.
  • Wings. All birds have wings, although not all birds fly.
  • Beak. All birds have beaks, or bills, made of a bony core surrounded by a thin layer of keratin.
  • Eggs.
  • Skeleton.


Why are birds so important? Birds are important to the ecosystem in many ways; they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds. Birds keep farmers in business. They protect our drinking water by preventing erosion. They slow the spread of disease. The collective term for the many ways birds (and other animals, plants, and landscapes) support and improve human life is “ecosystem services.”


The (Many) Benefits of Birds:

  • Improved Mental Health for Humans. Studies have shown spending time in nature improves both cognition and mental health.
  • Carcass Cleanup. Perhaps the least sexy service some birds provide is eating dead animals.
  • Mosquito Muncher.
  • Free Shipping.
  • Winged Sentinels.
  • Ecosystem Health.
  • Pollination.


What makes birds able to fly? The shape of the wing and the ability to move it through the air are the two things needed for bird and plane flight. Birds use their strong breast muscles to flap their wings and give them the thrust to move through the air and fly. In a way, birds use a swimming motion to get the lift needed to fly.

Why can birds fly but humans cannot? Other than a few differences such as air sacs connected to their lungs to make them lighter and a lightweight skeleton with hollow bones, birds can fly because their wingspan and wing muscle strength are in balance with their body size. When it comes to us humans, it's all about strength to size ratio.


How do birds change direction when flying? To pitch up, a bird's wings make an upward angle with the air; to pitch down, a bird's wings make a downward angle with the air. Finally, to control yaw, the left-and-right motion, birds twist their wing tips left or right, depending on the desired direction.

What features of a bird's body help it to fly? Flying birds have lightweight, smooth feathers – this reduces the forces of weight and drag. They also have beaks, instead of heavy, bony jaws and teeth – this reduces the force of weight. The enlarged breastbone, called a sternum, for flight muscle attachment helps with the force of thrust.


How do birds stay in the air? Once birds get up in the air, they use two main flying techniques to stay up there. Soaring: When birds soar, they take advantage of air currents to help hold them up. This rising air current can lift very light objects, like feathers and hollow bones.


How do birds sleep without falling? Won't birds fall off their perch as they sleep? Actually, it is very unlikely that roosting birds will fall from their perch. When the bird places weight on its feet, the muscles in the leg force the tendons of the feet to tighten, keeping the foot closed. Not all birds sleep on branches, however.


How far can a bird fly? Biologists who fitted GPS trackers to the aptly named wandering albatross have discovered that these large birds can travel at least 15,000 km (just under 10,000 miles) over the sea before returning to land. That's like flying non-stop from Houston, Texas to Perth, Australia. Many commercial jets cannot do that!


Do birds need feathers to fly? Feathers help birds to do this by providing insulation. Some birds have special feathers that keep them both warm and dry. Of course, feathers also allow birds to do one of their favourite things: fly. Without their aerodynamically designed feathers, birds would be waddling around on the ground like the rest of us!


Why is the flying bird not pulled down by gravity? To stay up, the bird must overcome gravity with a force called “lift”. Lift is a very active force, made by moving the wing at speed through air.


Do birds fall out of the sky when they die? In-air bird deaths aren't due to some apocalyptic plague or insidious experiment - they happen all the time, scientists say. But what causes dead birds to fall from the sky en masse? The two common culprits: loud noises and crashes.


Why do some birds have forked tails? A tail reduces a bird's overall lift-to-drag ratio (LID), but the tail is important in maintaining stability over a range of flight speeds and in generating lift to help with turning and slow flight. Tail shape can also be important, particularly in aerial hawkers that rely on high agility to obtain their food.


How do air sacs help birds fly? Bird lungs are full of elastic air sacs that help to dissipate heat and reduce the density of their bodies. To flap their wings and provide power for flight, birds contract their large pectoral (breast) muscles which are anchored to a keel on their sternum (breastbone).


How do birds not hit each other? To answer this question, researchers put parakeets (aka budgerigars) into an air tunnel and had them fly towards each other. They found that birds have evolved a simple way to avoid mid-air collisions: each bird always veers right and changes altitude. Birds always seem to avoid one another, even if they're flying on what looks like a collision course.


What bird flies the longest without landing? The common swift holds the record for the longest continuous flight time of any bird. Alpine swifts can fly up to six months without stopping, and great frigate birds, with their giant 7½-foot wingspans, can soar across the Indian Ocean for about two months on end.


Do birds sleep while flying? For years, scientists have suspected that birds can sleep in mid-flight, as many species of birds are known to fly non-stop for days or even weeks. Now, however, according to a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, researchers have finally found evidence that birds do indeed sleep while flying.


What is a bird's tail called? Most birds' tails end in long feathers called rectrices. These feathers are used as a rudder, helping the bird steer and manoeuvre in flight; they also help the bird to balance while it is perched.


Can a bird fly without tail feathers? A bird can fly perfectly competently without a tail, but a tail-less bird does kind of lack in 'finesse'. This is because the tail provides it with a rudder and a brake.


Do birds like bird baths? Birds seem to prefer baths that are set at ground level, where they typically find water in nature. While birds are bathing, they can be vulnerable to predators, especially to cats.


Can birds sleep with noise? One of the many extraordinary traits’ birds have is their sleep pattern. Yes, birds do sleep, but they don't sleep like mammals do. Birds also sleep with one-half of their brain awake! It's called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep and keeps birds alert to potential predators while still catching some Zs.


Do birds dream? Birds also exhibit signs of REM sleep. Are they dreaming? It's a fascinating question, but unfortunately there's no answer right now. In birds, the patterns of neuronal activity in different brain regions during REM sleep can be measured, but (obviously) scientists cannot ask birds about their dream content.


How do birds mimic sounds? Lacking vocal cords, birds are thought to make tones and sounds using throat muscles and membranes – the syrinx in particular.


How many birds are there in the World? About 400 billion at a guess, but there have been some reasonable estimates. About 10 years ago, two scientists decided to estimate the total number of birds on the planet. The number they came up with was 200 to 400 billion individual birds. Compared to 5 billion people, this amounts to about 40 to 60 birds per person.


What are interesting facts about birds? Some bird species are intelligent enough to create and use tools. The chicken is the most common species of bird found in the world. Kiwis are endangered, flightless birds that live in New Zealand. They lay the largest eggs relative to their body size of any bird in the world.


Why we should not keep birds in cages? Birds are meant to fly and be with others of their own kind in a natural environment. Just like you and I, birds don’t wish to be caged. If you have a caged bird, perhaps it is time to send it to Birds of Eden in Plettenberg Bay, at least the bird will be able to send the remainder of its life with others of its own kind and he/she will be able to fly free. Birds of Eden can be contacted via email info@birdsofeden.co.za and telephonically 0829795683.