Birds are known for being beautiful, colorful, sometimes strange, and always fascinating. Have you ever watched one from your window or observed one frolicking in your backyard? Maybe you’ve wondered what the bird was doing and why. Despite being one of the animals that we come into contact with most frequently, birds are often mysterious to us as humans. To help you understand our feathered friends a little better, we created this list of facts about birds. So, if you’re ready to learn some cool new bird facts, read on!
#1 Birds Are Related to Dinosaurs.
Based on anatomical similarities, it has long been suspected that there’s a link between birds and dinosaurs. In 2003, researchers found molecular evidence that chickens and ostriches are the closest modern relations to Tyrannosaurus rex. This happened by chance when Jack Horner and Mary Schweitzer broke a T. rex bone in half to fit it inside their helicopter and found some unfossilized collagen inside. They compared the dinosaur collagen to that of 21 living creatures, including humans, chimps, mice, chickens, ostriches, and alligators. The T. rex’s collagen was most similar to the collagen found in chickens and ostriches, and the next closest match was to alligators. However, since chickens, ostriches, and alligators don’t have all that much in common, more research and data points are needed before we can truly understand the link between birds and dinosaurs.
#2 Crows Are the Smartest Birds.
Considered the smartest birds in the world, crows can use tools, recognize faces, understand complex subjects, and solve logic puzzles. They can even reason out cause and effect! Other highly intelligent birds include ravens, who have shown an ability to problem solve and even plan for future events like hominids do. Other corvids, such as jays and magpies, and various parrots, including African greys and macaws, are also considered highly intelligent birds.
#3 The Peregrine Falcon Is the Fastest Bird.
The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird – and the fastest animal on Earth! – when in its hunting dive. During its hunting dives, this bird can reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour! In 2005, a peregrine falcon named Who Frightful set the record for the fastest dive by a bird at nearly 242 mph. However, when travelling in level flight, the peregrine falcon is not notably fast. The spine-tailed swift, a bird native to India, moves at 100 mph and is considered the fastest bird when travelling in level flight. The gray-headed albatross is another bird that’s often considered the fastest in the world for its ability to sustain speeds of more than 78 mph for many hours in level flight.
#4 Hummingbirds Have the Fastest Wingbeat of Any Bird.
Specifically, the ruby-throated hummingbird has the distinction of being the bird with the fastest wingbeat. During courtship, these little birds can beat their wings at a rate of about 200 beats per second! Most other hummingbirds hit a rate of about 90 wingbeats per second during courtship. Outside of courtship, the average wingbeat rate of most hummingbirds in normal flight is still quite rapid, however, at about 60 to 80 beats per second!
#5 Birds Come in Incredibly Small – and Incredibly Large – Sizes.
The bee hummingbird is the smallest bird on Earth. Found only in Cuba, the bee hummingbird measures just 2.25 inches long and weighs less than a dime. This small bird's eggs are approximately the size of coffee beans! As adults, these tiny birds are often mistaken for bees. On the other end of the spectrum is the largest bird in the world: the ostrich. In particular, the Somali ostrich (Struthio molybdophanes) can grow up to 2.7 meters tall and may weigh up to 130 kg. The bird with the largest wingspan of any flying bird is the wandering albatross, whose maximum wingspan has been recorded at an impressive 11 feet and 10 inches!
#6 Birds Have Hollow Bones.
You may have heard that birds have hollow bones to help them fly. But do you know why? It’s not actually to make them lighter – in fact, bird skeletons are made of extra dense material to ward off easy breakage. This means that bird bones don't weigh any less than mammal skeletons of the same size. So why do birds have hollow bones, then? Bird bones are not only hollow, they are pneumatized, meaning that they’re full of spaces for air. As a bird grows, air sacs that make up the bird’s lungs branch out into the bird’s bones, forming a bunch of tiny hollows. These air sacs stay attached to the hollows for the duration of a bird’s life. Along with a forward-and-backward arrangement of air sacs, this feature gives birds a massive edge: they can take in oxygen while inhaling and exhaling. This extra oxygen intake, which is made possible by their hollow bones, helps them fly.
#7 Birds Are Colorful (or Not) for a Reason.
Many birds are highly colorful. Their colors can serve many purposes. Sometimes bird colors are used to attract potential mates. In many cases, colors and patterns help birds identify members of their own species. Colors can also help birds avoid predators – for example, when killdeer see a predator, they extend a wing to reveal a patch of rusty red. They pretend to be hurt, lure the predator away from their nest, and then fly away quickly! In addition to clever trickery, colors can also help birds camouflage themselves from predators. For example, less brightly colored birds are born that way for a reason – it helps them better blend in with their habitats, which in turn makes them less noticeable to predators! It’s also interesting to note that bird colors can change depending on the season. And they may not always be what they seem – while some bird plumage colors are the result of pigment, others are the result of light reflecting off feathers. What our eyes see may not always match what other birds or predators see.
Still not enough bird facts to sate your curiosity? Then check out this video to learn even more facts about birds!