Birds



Birds (class Aves) are bipedal, warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrate animals. Birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period and the earliest known bird is the Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx. Ranging in size from tiny hummingbirds to the huge Ostrich and Emu, there are around 10,000 known living bird species in the world, making them the most diverse class of terrestrial vertebrates.

Modern birds are characterized by feathers, a beak with no teeth, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton. All birds have forelimbs modified as wings and most can fly, though the ratites and several others, particularly endemic island species, have lost the ability to fly. Birds also have unique digestive and respiratory systems that are highly adapted for flight.

Many species of bird undertake long distance annual migrations, and many more perform shorter irregular movements. Birds are social and communicate using visual signals and through calls and song, and participate in social behavior including cooperative hunting, cooperative breeding, flocking and mobbing of predators. Birds are primarily socially monogamous, with engagement in extra-pair copulations being common in some species - other species have polygamous or polyandrous breeding systems. Eggs are usually laid in a nest and incubated and most birds have an extended period of parental care after hatching.

Birds are economically important to humans: many are important sources of food, acquired either through hunting or farming, and they provide other products. Some species, particularly songbirds and parrots, are popular as pets. Birds figure prominently in all aspects of human culture from religion to poetry and popular music. About 120-130 species have become extinct as a result of human activity since 1600, and hundreds more before this. Currently around 1,200 species of birds are threatened with extinction by human activities and efforts are underway to protect them. Read more ...




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Birds in the News





Pigeons can learn to distinguish real words from non-words   PhysOrg - September 19, 2016

Pigeons can learn to distinguish real words from non-words by visually processing their letter combinations. The researchers found that pigeons' performance was on a par with that previously reported in baboons for this type of complex task. Their study is the first to identify a non-primate species as having "orthographic" abilities.




Birds engage in all types of sleep in flight, but in remarkably small amounts   Science Daily - August 3, 2016

For the first time, researchers have discovered that birds can sleep in flight. They measured the brain activity of frigatebirds and found that they sleep in flight with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land. How frigatebirds are able to perform adaptively on such little sleep remains a mystery.




Evolution of flight in birds   Science Daily - July 18, 2016

The group's findings suggest that wings, even those with large or ornately colored feathers, could have initially served different purposes rather than flying such as signaling or sexual selection before the development of flight.




Dodo Birds Weren't 'Dodos' After All   Live Science - February 24, 2016

Dodos weren't as dumb as their reputation suggests. New research finds that these extinct, flightless birds were likely as smart as modern pigeons, and had a better sense of smell. Dodos (Raphus cucullatus) had gone extinct by 1662, less than 100 years after their island home of Mauritius became a destination for Dutch explorers. The birds, unfamiliar with humans, were initially fearless. This made them easy pickings for hunters and also cemented their reputation as dullards. A new computed tomography (CT) scan of a rare, intact dodo skull reveals that these birds had brain-to-body sizes that are similar to those of modern pigeons.




Images: How the Bird Beak Evolved   Live Science - May 12, 2015

Researchers reverted the beaks of chicken embryos into Velociraptor-like snouts. Here's a look at the chicken experiment and results. The dinosaur-nosed chicken embryos revealed that simple genetic tweaks might have led to the development of beaks in the ancestors of birds. In fact, such anatomic changes are seen in an extinct relative of modern birds - The 85-million-year-old Hesperornis bird (shown here) has the first-known modern beak and palate. Hesperornis was discovered by the great Yale paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in the middle of the 1800s.




Cranky Parrots & Warty Pigeons Among Mauritius' Extinct Creatures   Live Science - May 7, 2015

The dodo bird was not the only wacky animal inhabitant of the island of Mauritius: Bad-tempered parrots, wart-faced pigeons and several other now-extinct but noteworthy indigenous animals called this land home, new research suggests. Historians had previously identified the animals that lived on the island before Dutch settlers arrived in the 17th century, but the details about these creatures had remained largely unknown.




Feathery fossils peg early birds to even earlier date   BBC - May 6, 2015

Scientists in China have described a new species of early bird, from two fossils with intact plumage dating to 130 million years ago. Based on the age of the surrounding rocks, this is the earliest known member of the clade that produced today's birds: Ornithuromorpha. It pushes back the branching-out of this evolutionary group by at least five million years. The little bird appears to have been a wader, capable of nimble flight.




  Why Don't Birds Have Teeth? Scientists Solve Mystery   Epoch Times - December 15, 2014

Birds are the modern day ancestors of dinosaurs, but unlike their predecessors, birds no longer have teeth. Until recently, scientists didn't know when or how. Now, after sequencing the genomes of 48 different bird species representing most avian orders, they were able to find when the switch happened from teeth to beaks.




'Big Bang' of bird evolution mapped: Genes reveal deep histories of bird origins, feathers, flight and song   Science Daily - December 11, 2014

The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium are being reported nearly simultaneously in 29 papers - eight papers in a Dec. 12 special issue of Science and 21 more in Genome Biology, GigaScience and other journals. The analyses suggest some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution, including insights into vocal learning and the brain, colored plumage, sex chromosomes and the birds' relationship to dinosaurs and crocodiles.




Rapid bird evolution after the age of dinosaurs unprecedented, study confirms   PhysOrg - December 11, 2014

The most ambitious genetic study ever undertaken on bird evolution has found that almost all modern birds diversified after the dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago.




How birds get by without external ears   Science Daily - December 11, 2014
Unlike mammals, birds have no external ears. The outer ears have an important function: they help the animal identify sounds coming from different elevations. But birds are also able to perceive whether the source of a sound is above them, below them, or at the same level. Now a research team has discovered that birds are able to localize these sounds by utilizing their entire head.




Genes tell story of birdsong and human speech   Science Daily - December 11, 2014
A massive international effort to sequence and compare the entire genomes of 48 species of birds, representing every major order of the bird family tree, reveals that vocal learning evolved twice or maybe three times among songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds. Even more striking, the set of genes employed in each of those song innovations is remarkably similar to the genes involved in human speaking ability.




Crows understand water displacement at the level of a small child: Show causal understanding of a 5- to 7-year-old child   Science Daily - March 27, 2014

New Caledonian crows may understand how to displace water to receive a reward, with the causal understanding level of a 5- to 7-year-old child. Understanding causal relationships between actions is a key feature of human cognition. However, the extent to which non-human animals are capable of understanding causal relationships is not well understood. Scientists used the Aesop's fable riddle -- in which subjects drop stones into water to raise the water level and obtain an out-of reach-reward -- to assess New Caledonian crows' causal understanding of water displacement.




New analysis of fossils reveal ancient bird had two tails   PhysOrg - October 8, 2013

team of researchers working in China has determined that previously found bird fossils show that Jeholornis, which lived in what is now China approximately 120 million years ago, had two tails. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe their study of the fossils and the dual tails—one long with feathers near the end, the other short and more useful for flying.




Cultural evolution changes bird song   PhysOrg - January 29, 2013
Thanks to cultural evolution, male Savannah sparrows are changing their tune, partly to attract "the ladies." According to a study of more than 30 years of Savannah sparrows recordings, the birds are singing distinctly different songs today than their ancestors did 30 years ago - changes passed along generation to generation




Strange He-She Birds Present Gender-Bending Mystery   Live Science - May 26, 2011
A strange bird showed up in Larry Ammann's backyard on Jan. 14. Clearly a cardinal, it had the bright red plumage of a male on its left side and gray, female feathers on its right. "I had no clue how on Earth something like that could happen," said Ammann, a professor of statistics and a wildlife photographer who lives in a suburb of Dallas. "It was a learning experience." Ammann and the biologists he consulted concluded the bird was most likely part female, part male. Creatures with this condition are called gynandromorphs. They are genetic anomalies: Some cells in their bodies carry the genetic instructions for a male, some for a female. While this gender-bending also occurs among insects, spiders and crustaceans, birds like this cardinal have raised questions about how sex identity is determined among some animals.




Extinct fighting bird swung its wings like clubs   MSNBC - December 29, 2010
Before humans wiped them out, the birds clobbered each other over territory. Some dinosaurs had club-like tails that they smacked into foes, and now researchers have discovered that the wings of an extinct Jamaican bird evolved into similar structures that the bird would use to clobber rivals during fights.




Mirrorlike Feathers Give Bird of Paradise Its Shine   Live Science - December 15, 2010
The rainbow-sheened feathers of the male bird of paradise are an eye-catching way to snag a mate. Now, a new study finds the birds owe their shimmer to feathers that reflect light like mirrors.




  Starling flocks fly like a single entity   PhysOrg - June 17, 2010

An animal group such as a school of fish or a flock of starlings can seem like a single entity governed by a collective mind. A new mathematical analysis of flight dynamics in flocks of starlings suggest this is because the birds are effectively a single network, with every bird's movements affected by every other bird's movements, as if they were all connected together.




Garden birds prefer non-organic food to organic, study finds   Telegraph.co.uk - May 19, 2010
British researchers found that birds such as robins and house sparrows "instinctively" preferred non-organic seeds to the more naturally grown varieties as it appeared to provide them with greater nutritional value through the cold months. When offered both varieties of wheat seed, they were able to discern between the two and ate up to 20 per cent more of the conventional grown variety than the organic.




Birds and mammals share a common brain circuit for learning   PhysOrg - May 18, 2010

Bird song learning is a model system for studying the general principles of learning, but attempts to draw parallels between learning in birds and mammals have been difficult because of anatomical brain differences between the two species. A new study from researchers at MIT and Hebrew University helps solve this problem, by identifying specific classes of neurons within the brains of songbirds and matching them to their mammalian counterparts. The study focuses on the basal ganglia, brain structures that play a key role in skill learning and habit formation and are also linked to many disorders, including Parkinson's disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and drug addiction. Mammalian basal ganglia consist of several structures, including the striatum and the globus pallidus, both of which are centrally involved in Parkinson's disease.




  Clever New Caledonian crows can use three tools   BBC - April 21, 2010

New Caledonian crows have given scientists yet another display of their tool-using prowess. Scientists from New Zealand's University of Auckland have found that the birds are able to use three tools in succession to reach some food. The crows, which use tools in the wild, have also shown other problem-solving behavior, but this find suggests they are more innovative than was thought.




All birds use the same navigation system   PhysOrg - March 20, 2010
How do birds find their way when they fly? Scientists resolved this question a couple of years ago at DESY with the synchrotron radiation source DORIS III, when they discovered structures containing iron in the beaks of homing pigeons. These structures are able to measure the direction and intensity of the earth's magnetic field and thus help the birds navigate. Recently a team of scientists from the universities of Frankfurt and Oldenburg, the Helmholtz Centre Berlin, and DESY gained surprising new insights with new experiments.




Songbirds Yield Insight Into Speech Production   Science Daily - March 20, 2010
With the help of a little singing bird, Penn State physicists are gaining insight into how the human brain functions, which may lead to a better understanding of complex vocal behavior, human speech production and ultimately, speech disorders and related diseases.




Record Migration: Small Birds Travel 50,000 Miles   Live Science - January 12, 2010




Tropical birds waited for land crossing between North and South America: study   PhysOrg - December 9, 2009

Despite their ability to fly, tropical birds waited until the formation of the land bridge between North and South America to move northward. This study is the most extensive evidence to date that shows the land bridge playing a key role in the interchange of bird species between North and South America and the abundant biodiversity in the tropical regions




Birds can talk out of the corner of their mouths   Telegraph.co.uk - November 18, 2009
Scientists have found that birds can direct their voices towards the potential threat, even if they are at a right angle to them. The “remarkable sophistication” of their call helps the birds to signal to the predator that they should leave their area. Researchers from the University of California found that two small American songbirds, the house finch and the yellow rumped warbler, could pull of the trick. Both species emit calls that are significantly skewed towards the left or right depending on whether the bird is facing to the left or the right of the predator. They found that some birds ‘can talk out of the corner of their mouths by beaming their calls to predators when facing lateral to them.




  Bird Feathers "Sing"   National Geographic - November 11, 2009




Why Flamingos Stand on One Leg   Live Science - September 17, 2009

The brilliant pink feathers, gangly neck and upside-down eating are enough to make flamingos a spectacle at any zoo and generate a barrage of questions from curious children. But one stumper for scientists has always been: Why do flamingos stand on one leg? Flamingos (Phoenicopterus rubber) are known to often stand on one leg while resting. Scientists have put forward a number of ideas as to why the birds favor this unipedal stance while taking a snooze, but none had ever tested out their explanations.




Scientists explain why birds get sex on the brain in the Spring   PhysOrg - August 7, 2009
Light receptors deep in the brains of birds detect the changing day length and trigger the seasonal development of the reproductive system. If all goes well chicks hatch six to eight weeks later. The research has pinpointed the identity of the light receptors in chicken and Japanese quail in a deep part of the brain called the hypothalamus. When you hear birds singing in the Springtime, it's a light-sensitive molecule deep in their brain that's triggered this reproductive event. ‘By timing their mating to the changing seasons, birds can make sure that there will be enough food around for their chicks.




  Clever rooks repeat ancient fable   BBC - August 7, 2009


In the tale, written more than 2,000 years ago, a crow uses stones to raise the water level in a pitcher so it can reach the liquid to quench its thirst.




  Hummingbirds 'faster than jets'   BBC - June 10, 2009
Male hummingbirds, swooping in an effort to impress females, achieve speeds "faster than fighter jets", according to a study.




  Birds Can Dance, Experts Reveal   National Geographic - April 30, 2009




Bird With "Human" Eyes Knows What You're Looking At   National Geographic - April 8, 2009
For the crow-like birds known as jackdaws, it's all in the eyes. The species may be the only animal aside from humans known to understand the role of eyes in seeing and perceiving things, according to a new study. While humans often use visual clues to communicate, it wasn't known whether other animals share this social ability.




"Conjoined" Birds Puzzle Experts National Geographic - July 24, 2008

An apparent pair of conjoined barn is causing a flutter among bird experts. Judsonia, Arkansas, resident Danny Langford found the odd couple on July 17 after they fell out of their nest and onto his driveway. Barn swallows have nested near Langford's house for the past seven years, he said, before completing their annual migration to South America.




Huge Genome-scale Phylogenetic Study Of Birds Rewrites Evolutionary Tree-of-life Science Daily - June 27, 2008

The largest ever study of bird genetics has not only shaken up but completely redrawn the avian evolutionary tree. The study challenges current classifications, alters our understanding of avian evolution, and provides a valuable resource for phylogenetic and comparative studies in birds.




Birds can 'see' the Earth's magnetic field New Scientist - May 1, 2008
It has been debated for nearly four decades but no one has yet been able to prove it is chemically possible. Now good evidence suggests that birds can actually "see" the lines of the Earth's magnetic field. Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois, proposed forty years ago that some animals - including migratory birds - must have molecules in their eyes or brains which respond to magnetism. The problem has been that no one has been able to find a chemical sensitive enough to be influenced by Earth's weak geomagnetic field.




Bird Brains Swap Regions for Baby Babbling, Adult Song National Geographic - May 2, 2008
When babies gurgle "goo-goo, ga-ga," it might seem they simply can't control their vocalizations. But a specific part of infants' brains may be devoted to creating this seemingly random babbling, suggests a new study of songbirds called zebra finches. These birds also "babble" when young, and the study shows that a specific part of their brains is devoted to this stage of learning. But as the birds age this region gives way to a different region linked to adult song.




Video: Rare Cranes Taught to Migrate National Geographic - November 6, 2007




New Clues to How Birds First Flew Live Science - November 6, 2007

For more than a century, scientists have debated how birds evolved flight. Some thought birds had ground-dwelling ancestors, developing flight by taking off from the ground. Others figured birds evolved from tree-dwellers, developing flight by first gliding from branches. It now seems early birds might have preferred life on the ground. In the past 15 years, researchers have uncovered a wealth of fossils of dinosaurs that could help settle the controversy and are already revealing more about how early birds lived roughly 150 million years ago. These creatures were seemingly on the way to becoming birds—"intermediates that had feathers, that were developing wings, that were forming beaks




Clever crows are caught on camera BBC - October 5, 2007

Miniature cameras have given scientists a rare glimpse into how New Caledonian crows behave in the wild. The birds are renowned for their sophisticated tool-using ability, but until now, observing them in their natural habitat has proven difficult. But specially designed "crow-cams" fitted to the birds' tails have shed light on the creatures, recording some tool-use never seen before.




Alex: Brainy Parrot Dies, Emotive to the End NY Times- September 18, 2007

He knew his colors and shapes, he learned more than 100 English words, and with his own brand of one-liners he established himself in television shows, scientific reports and news articles as perhaps the world's most famous talking bird. But last week Alex, an African gray parrot, died, apparently of natural causes, said Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist at Brandeis University and Harvard who studied and worked with the parrot for most of his life and published reports of his progress in scientific journals. The parrot was 31.




Alaska Bird Makes Longest Nonstop Flight Ever Measured National Geographic - September 15, 2007

A female shorebird was recently found to have flown 7,145 miles (11,500 kilometers) nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand, without taking a break for food or drink.




New Bird Species Found In Idaho, Demonstrates Co-evolutionary Arms Race Science Daily - March 19, 2007
One does not expect to discover a bird species new to science while wandering around the continental United States. Nor does one expect that such a species would provide much insight into how coevolutionary arms races promote speciation. On both fronts a paper to appear in The American Naturalist proves otherwise.




Pigeons find their way home by smell News in Science - August 18, 2006

In a real-life homing experiment, Dr Anna Gagliardo of the University of Pisa and colleagues tested the birds' magnetic sensing and olfactory systems to establish how they make their extraordinary navigations across hundreds of kilometres. In this research, Mora conditioned pigeons to detect an anomaly in a magnetic field. She showed that pigeons detected a magnetic stimulus in their upper beaks by using the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve, the largest cranial nerve. The 2004 study reinforced the theory that homing pigeons navigate by using tiny magnetic particles in their beaks to map changes in the Earth's magnetic fields.




Rare ibis tagged in race to save bird of pharaohs BBC - July 25, 2006

Three members of a bird species thought to be extinct in the Middle East until four years ago have been satellite tagged to aid conservation efforts. The northern bald ibis was revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs and was once widespread across the Middle East, northern Africa and the European Alps. There are now only 13 left in Syria and 100 breeding pairs in Morocco.


Ibis Wikipedia

Thoth - Ibis Headed Egyptian God Crystalinks




High-Tech Pictures Reveal How Hummingbirds Hover Scientific American - June 23, 2005
Hummingbirds are famous for their hovering ability, which lets them linger in front of flowers and feast on their nectar. But just how the creatures manage to stay aloft has intrigued researchers for years. New findings published this week in the journal Nature indicate that when it comes to flying, a hummingbird's style is halfway between that of a bird and an insect.




Bird song sheds light on learning BBC - May 15, 2005

Young canaries happily learn songs that sound nothing like their species, but they revert to a strict canary-like melody as they mature, Science reports. A US team was surprised to find it could teach juvenile birds a haphazard jumble of computer generated tunes. However, the birds' impressive flexibility gave way to rigid rules when breeding became a priority. Paradoxically, months of wayward early learning seems to have little impact on the birds' ability to sing properly. The scientists hope this puzzling course of events will help them understand how birds develop songs.




'Extinct' since 1920 spectacular ivory-billed woodpecker found alive in Arkansas BBC - April 28, 2005
The ivory-billed woodpecker, a spectacular bird long thought to be extinct, has been found alive in North America, Science magazine reports. The news has stunned ornithologists worldwide, with some comparing the discovery to finding the dodo. Researchers began an intense year-long search after a tip-off before finally capturing the bird on video.




Birds' Brains Reveal Source Of Songs Science Daily - April 26, 2005

Scientists have yearned to understand how the chirps and warbles of a young bird morph into the recognizable and very distinct melodies of its parents. Neuroscientists at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT now have come one step closer to understanding that process. They've shown for the first time how a particular brain region in birds serves as the source of vocal creativity.




Texas Hummingbirds Provide Nature's Greatest Show On Earth Science Daily - April 2005

Millions of hummingbirds, called hummers by bird enthusiasts, are starting to arrive in the state and the tiny creatures put on one of nature's greatest shows on Earth. When springtime comes to Texas, hummers invade the state and their arrival can be a time of wonder for those interested in the birds. Hummers frequently travel more than 1,000 miles from Central America and Mexico to get here. Hummers are among the most fascinating of all birds because of their at-times peculiar behavior, but don't count on making pets out of them; as with many wild birds, it is unlawful to keep hummingbirds as pets. But they can still be admired and observed, and hummingbird feeders are a good way to do both, says Dr. Ian Tizard, a bird specialist at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.




Huge eagles 'dominated NZ skies' 5 centuries ago BBC - January 7, 2005
One of the largest birds of prey ever recorded, an extinct giant eagle, was once New Zealand's chief predator, DNA evidence from fossil bones indicates. The eagle increased its weight at a rate unprecedented in other birds and animals after reaching New Zealand. But it was driven to oblivion about five centuries ago, just 200 years or so after the first humans arrived.




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