Bird Facts



  • Not all birds are able to fly, but they all have feathers.
  • Feathers are light, but they are linked by hooks called barbs to make them strong enough for flight.
  • Wrens have 1,000 feathers, while swans have 20,000.
  • Birds have four kinds of wing feather — large primaries, smaller secondaries, coverts and contours.
  • Every kind of bird has its own formation pattern and colour of feathers, called its plumage.
  • Instead of a teeth, birds have a hard beak or bill.
  • Unlike humans, birds do not give birth to babies. Instead they lay eggs, usually sitting on them to keep them warm until they hatch (see birds’ nests and eggs).
  • Birds fly in two ways — by gliding with their wings held still, or by flapping their wings up and down.
  • Gliding is less effort than flapping, and birds that stay in the air a long time tend to be superb gliders — including birds of prey, swifts, gulls and gannets.
  • Albatrosses and petrels have long narrow wings that help them sail upwards on rising air currents.
  • Most birds flap their wings to fly. Even birds that spend much of their time gliding have to flap their wings to take off and land.
  • Birds may be descended from dinosaurs and took to the air 150 million years ago.
  • Birds make two sorts of sounds — simple calls, giving a warning or a threat, and the more complicated songs sung by some males at breeding time.
  • Birds’ songs have a definite dialect. The songs of a group of chaffinches in one area, will sound slightly different from those of a group somewhere else.
  • A songbird reared in captivity away from its family produces a weak version of its parents’ song, but cannot perform the whole repertoire.
  • Gulls and parrots do not sing, but they do make various calls to attract mates or warn off enemies.
  • A bird sings by vibrating the thin muscles in its syrinx — a special organ located in its throat. Birds ******
  • Skylarks make special, fluttering flights accompanied by a distinctive song.
  • Male and female boubou shrikes sing a duet together, performing alternate parts of the song.
  • Songbirds may make as many as 20 calls; gulls make only about 10.
  • Birds make other sounds, too. During courtship flights, male weodpigeons make a loud clapping with their wings.
  • A sedge warbler may use at least 50 different sounds in its songs.
  • The chaffinch is the commonest of Europe’s finches and has a cheerful, attractive song. :31.11=1
  • A baby songbird starts to learn to sing about 10 days after it hatches, and continues to learn for about 40 days.
  • No bird has more than four toes, but some have three and the ostrich has only two.
  • Four-toed birds have different arrangements of toes: in swifts, all four toes point forwards; in most perching birds, three point forwards and one backwards; and in parrots, two point forwards and two backwards.
  • A beak is made up of a bird’s projecting jaw bones, which are covered in a hard horny material.
  • The hyacinth macaw has one of the most powerful beaks of any bird, strong enough to crack brazil nuts.
  • Webbed feet make all waterbirds very efficient paddlers.
  • The Australian pelican has the largest beak of any bird, at up to 50 cm long.
  • Nightjars have the shortest beaks, at 8-10 mm long.
  • A bird stands on the tips of its toes – the backward bending joint halfway down its leg is the ankle joint.
  • A bird’s beak is extremely sensitive to touch. Birds that probe in the ground for food have extra sensory organs at the beak tip.
  • A baby bird has a spike called an `egg-tooth’ on its beak for breaking its way out of its egg.
  • After they lay their eggs, most birds sit on them to keep them warm until they are ready to hatch. This is called incubating the eggs.
  • All birds begin life as eggs. Each species’ egg is a slightly different colour.
  • The plover’s egg is pearshaped. The owl’s is round.
  • Hornbills lay just one egg a year. Partridges lay up to 20 eggs. Hens and some ducks can lay around 350 a year.
  • Most birds build nests to lay their eggs in – usually bowl-shaped and made from twigs, grasses and leaves.
  • The biggest nest is that of the Australian mallee fowl, which builds a mound of soil 5 m across, with egg-chambers filled with rotting vegetation to keep it warm.
  • The weaverbirds of Africa and Asia are very sociable. Some work together to weave huge, hanging nests out of straw, with scores of chambers. Each chamber is for a pair of birds and has its own entrance.
  • Ovenbirds of Central and South America get their name because their nests look like the clay ovens made by local people. Some ovenbirds’ nests can be as much as 3 m high.
  • Flamingos nest on lakes, building mud nests that look like upturned sandcastles poking out of the water. They lay one or two eggs on top.
  • The great treeswift lays its single egg in a nest the size of an eggcup.
  • The bittern, famous for its bull-like booming call, feeds on animals living in reed beds. This is where it makes its nest.
  • Great auks’ eggs are pointed at one end to stop them rolling off their cliff-edge nests.
  • The earliest known bird is Archaeopteryx, which lived 155-150 million years ago. It had feathers like a modern bird but teeth like a reptile.
  • Ichthyornis was a seabird with long, toothed jaws. It lived alongside dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous period.
  • Although it could fly, Archaeopteryx could not take off from the ground, and probably had to climb a tree before launching itself into the air.
  • Scientists believe that birds evolved from lightly built dinosaurs such as Compsognathus, which ran on two legs.
  • The dodo stood 1 m tall and lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It became extinct in the 17th century.
  • Aepyornis (also known as the ‘elephant bird’), a 3-m tall ostrich ancestor from Madagascar, probably became extinct in the 17th century.
  • The eggs of Aepyornis may have weighed as much as 10 kg – more than 9 times the weight of an ostrich egg today.
  • The tallest bird ever was the moa (Dinornis) of New Zealand. It was a towering 3.5 m tall.
  • The great auk first lived 2 million years ago. It became extinct in the mid 19th century after being over-hunted for its fat, which was burned in oil lamps.
  • An early member of the vulture family, Argentavix of South America had an amazing 7.3 m wingspan.