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Overview

Brief Summary

There are many species of birds, but they all have wings and feathers. Bird bones are hollow. This makes them lighter in weight, costing them less energy to stay in the air. Bird feathers do not last long. They replace - molt- their worn feathers at least once a year. Some birds lose all their flying feathers at the same time and are unable to fly during that period. Others lose them one at a time.
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Introduction to the Birds

With approximately 10,000 living species, the Aves (birds) are the only living animals with feathers. The living birds range in size from the tiny Bee Hummingibird of Cuba (about 5 cm long, 1.8 g) to the Ostrich of Africa (up to about 2.7 m tall, 256 kg).

The birds are the living descendents of dinosaurs and in pure taxonomic terms they are truly living dinosaurs.

They are present on all continents and most islands (probably all islands if brief visits are included). Birds live in most environments from the driest deserts to marine environments. Some species are able to dive quite deeply while some have been seen flying at over about 6,000 meters (over the Himalayas).

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Comprehensive Description

Description of Aves

Aves is the latin name for the birds - feathered, winged, bipedal, warm-blooded, egg-laying, vertebrate animals with evolutionary origins among the reptiles. The taxon has been historically treated as equal to fish, amphibia, reptiles and mammals, but in order to make classifications reflect evolutionary history, they are now more usually regarded as falling inside the Reptilia. Around 10,000 living species makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm Bee Hummingbird to the 2.75 m Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 160 million years (Ma) ago. Birds are the only clade of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 65.5 Ma ago.Modern birds are characterised 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 living species of birds have wings. Wings are evolved forelimbs, and most bird species can fly; exceptions include the ostriches, emus and relatives, penguins, and some endemic island species. Birds also have unique digestive and respiratory systems that are well suited to their flying needs. Some birds, especially corvids and parrots, are among the most intelligent animal species; a number of bird species have been observed manufacturing and using tools, and many social species transmit knowledge across generations. Many species undertake long distance annual migrations, and many more perform shorter irregular movements.Many species are social and communicate using visual signals and through calls and songs, and participate in social behaviours, including cooperative breeding and hunting, flocking, and mobbing of predators. The vast majority of bird species are socially monogamous, usually for one breeding season at a time, sometimes for years, and rarely for life. Other species have polygynous (\"many females\") or, rarely, polyandrous (\"many males\") breeding systems. Eggs are usually laid in a nest and incubated by the parents. Most birds have an extended period of parental care after hatching. Many species are of economic importance, mostly as sources of food acquired through hunting or farming. Some species, particularly songbirds and parrots, are popular as pets. Other uses include the harvesting of guano (droppings) for use as a fertiliser. Birds figure prominently in all aspects of human culture from religion to poetry to popular music. About 120–130 species have become extinct as a result of human activity since the 17th century, and hundreds more before then. Currently about 1,200 species of birds are threatened with extinction by human activities, though efforts are underway to protect them.
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Sexual Dimorphism

Males usually larger than females, but females larger in some groups; slight Sexual Dimorphism in shape; diverse and pronounced Sexual Dimorphism in color and plumage, usually males more conspicuous.
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Ecology

Associations

Animal / dung/debris feeder
gymnothecium of Actinodendron verticillatum feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
cleistothecium of Aphanoascus fulvescens feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
arthroconidial anamorph of Arachniotus candidus feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
gymnothecium of Arthroderma quadrifidum feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
gymnothecium of Arthroderma uncinatum feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung saprobe
apothecium of Ascobolus crenulatus is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Aves

Animal / pathogen
Aspergillus flavus infects Aves

Animal / pathogen
Aspergillus fumigatus infects Aves

Animal / pathogen
Aspergillus niger infects Aves

Animal / predator
Aves is predator of Aphididae

Animal / dung/debris feeder
Cephalotrichum dematiaceous anamorph of Cephalotrichum microsporum feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
Cephalotrichum dematiaceous anamorph of Cephalotrichum stemonitis feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung saprobe
sporangiophore of Coemansia scorpioidea is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
gymnothecium of Ctenomyces serratus feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / associate
larva of Fannia coracina is associated with old nest of Aves

Animal / associate
larva of Fannia nidica is associated with nest of Aves

Animal / associate
imago of Geotrupes vernalis is associated with corpse of Aves

Animal / associate
larva of Hydrotaea basdeni is associated with nest of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
gymnothecium of Illosporium curreyi feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
nymph of Ixodes ricinus sucks the blood of Aves

Animal / guest
Lyctocoris campestris is a guest in nest of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
effuse colony of Monodictys dematiaceous anamorph of Monodictys levis feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
Microsporum conidial anamorph of Nannizzia cajetana feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
ascoma of Onygena corvina feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves
Other: major host/prey

Animal / associate
larva of Potamia littoralis is associated with nest of Aves

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
larva of Protocalliphora azurea sucks the blood of nestling of Aves
Other: sole host/prey

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
imago of Pseudolynchia garzettae ectoparasitises Aves
Other: minor host/prey

Animal / parasite
larva of Sarcophaga melanura parasitises Aves
Other: minor host/prey

Animal / dung/debris feeder
gymnothecium of Shanorella spirotricha feeds on dung/debris dead, fallen feather of Aves

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / dung saprobe
Stemmaria anamorph of Stemmaria aeruginosa is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Aves

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Syngamus trachea endoparasitises trachea of Aves

Animal / dung/debris feeder
Trox scaber feeds on dung/debris prey debris of nest of Aves

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Known predators

Aves is prey of:
Hydrurga leptonyx
Odontoceti
Falconiformes
Crocodilia
Homo sapiens
Ocypode
Coenobita
Diptera
Phaleria
Dermestes
Calliphora
Cathartes
Coragyps
Vultur
Caracara
Rattus
Duscicyon
Athene cunicularia
Asio otus
Tyto alba
Buteo swainsoni
Actinopterygii
Sphyraena
Carcharhinus leucas
Megalops atlanticus
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Alligator mississippiensis
Aves
Phocidae
Chondrichthyes
Serpentes
Aquila chrysaetos
Thamnophis sirtalis
Lampropeltis triangulum
Pandion haliaetus
Falco biarmicus
Larus californicus
Larus canus
Otus asio
Otus trichopsis
Surnia ulula
Strix varia
Asio flammeus
Agelaius phoeniceus
Corvus corax
Corvus caurinus
Nucifraga columbiana
Spermophilus lateralis
Glaucomys sabrinus
Glaucomys volans
Sciurus niger
Sciurus carolinensis
Tamias merriami
Sigmodon fulviventer
Onychomys arenicola
Ursus maritimus
Lontra canadensis
Mustela vison
Bassariscus astutus
Nasua nasua
Panthera onca
Canis rufus
Neophoca cinerea
Callorhinus ursinus
Panthera pardus
Cerdocyon thous
Otocyon megalotis
Cephalophus niger
Paleosuchus trigonatus
Puma concolor
Didelphis marsupialis
Antechinus swainsonii
Dasycercus cristicauda
Dasyurus maculatus
Trichosurus arnhemensis
Dendrolagus matschiei
Oncifelis geoffroyi
Oncifelis colocolo
Prionailurus viverrinus
Asturina nitida
Ictinia mississippiensis
Otus kennicottii
Pulsatrix perspicillata
Leontopithecus chrysopygus
Papio hamadryas
Hylobates klossii
Dryomys nitedula
Eliomys quercinus
Muscardinus avellanarius
Hydromys chrysogaster
Heloderma horridum
Helarctos malayanus
Tremarctos ornatus
Pseudalopex griseus
Pseudalopex gymnocercus
Pseudalopex vetulus
Leopardus tigrinus
Lynx pardinus
Oreailurus jacobita
Prionailurus planiceps
Galidia elegans
Herpestes edwardsii
Herpestes ichneumon
Suricata suricatta
Lontra provocax
Lutrogale perspicillata
Melogale everetti
Conepatus chinga
Conepatus semistriatus
Galictis cuja
Martes zibellina
Mustela altaica
Mustela kathiah
Mustela putorius
Mustela sibirica
Bassaricyon gabbii
Paguma larvata
Prionodon pardicolor
Sciurus vulgaris
Tatera indica
Hipposideros diadema
Macroderma gigas
Megaderma lyra
Vampyrum spectrum
Prionailurus iriomotensis
Canis lupus dingo
Canis lupus familiaris
Papio anubis
Papio papio
Papio ursinus

Based on studies in:
Antarctic (Marine)
USA, Northeastern US contintental shelf (Coastal)
Russia (Agricultural)
Ethiopia, Lake Abaya (Lake or pond)
Peru (Coastal)
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)
USA: Florida, Everglades (Estuarine)
South Africa, Southwest coast (Marine)
Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands shelf (Reef)
USA: California, Coachella Valley (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • N. N. Smirnov, Food cycles in sphagnous bogs, Hydrobiologia 17:175-182, from p. 179 (1961).
  • H. W. Koepcke and M. Koepcke, Sobre el proceso de transformacion de la materia organica en las playas arenosas marinas del Peru. Publ. Univ. Nac. Mayer San Marcos, Zoologie Serie A, No. 8, from p. 24 (1952).
  • W. E. Odum and E. J. Heald, The detritus-based food web of an estuarine mangrove community, In Estuarine Research, Vol. 1, Chemistry, Biology and the Estuarine System, Academic Press, New York, pp. 265-286, from p. 281 (1975).
  • N. A. Mackintosh, A survey of antarctic biology up to 1945. In: Biologie antarctique, R. Carrick, M. Holdgate, J. Prevost, Eds. (Hermann, Paris, 1964), pp. 3-38.
  • D. Riedel, Der Margheritensee (Sudabessinien) - Zugleich ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Abessinischen Graben-Seen, Arch. Hydrobiol. 58(4):435-466, from p. 457 (1962).
  • L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
  • Link J (2002) Does food web theory work for marine ecosystems? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 230:1–9
  • Polis GA (1991) Complex desert food webs: an empirical critique of food web theory. Am Nat 138:123–155
  • Opitz S (1996) Trophic interactions in Caribbean coral reefs. ICLARM Tech Rep 43, Manila, Philippines
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
  • Yodzis P (2000) Diffuse effects in food webs. Ecology 81:261–266
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Known prey organisms

Aves preys on:
Bivalvia
Lumbrinereis
Notomastus
Paracentrotus
Cancer
Portunus puber
Carcinus
Marthasterias
Euphausia superba
herbivorous plankton
plankton
Actinopterygii
Cephalopoda
fruit
canopy--leaves
flowers
Insecta
leaves and trunks
roots
fungi
Amphipoda
Emerita analoga
Nepthys
angiosperms
Lepidoptera
Araneae
Cerastoderma
Scrobicularia plana
Engraulis encrasicolus
Sardina pilchardus
Clupeidae
Pomatoschistus minutus
Conger conger
Trigla lucerna
Solea vulgaris
Ciliata mustella
Tilapia zillii
Barbus
Diptera
Oreochromis leucostictus
Tilapia nilotica
defoliating invertebrates
Rodentia
predatory invertebrates
Orthoptera
Tenebrionidae
Curculionidae
Thysanura
Isoptera
Scarabaeidae
Gerbillus
Talpinae
Aporosaura
Typhlosaurus
Serpentes
Mytilus
Littorina
Acmaea
Tautogolabrus
meibenthos
deposit feeders
filter feeders
Crustacea
Paracoenia turbida
herbivores
high carnivores
Copepoda
Callinectes sapidus
Lamproscatella dichaeta
Microcoelepis
Chironomidae
Tipulidae
Caenis rivulorum
Ephemerella ignita
Perla cephalotes
Perla carlukiana
Chloroperla grammatica
Stenophylax stellatus
Rhyacophila dorsalis
Agapetus fuscipes
Hydropsyche instabilis
Polycentropus flavomaculatus
Plectrocnemia conspersa
Crunoecia irrorata
Tinodes waeneri
Hydroptila
Simulium reptans
Limnophilus
benthic carnivores
mesozooplankton
macrozooplankton
Engraulidae
Etrumeus teres
Gonostomatidae
Diaphus splendidus
Callogobius atratus
Trachurus
Scomber japonicus
Merluccius
Thyrsites atun
Aves
Phocidae
Chondrichthyes
Scombridae
Carangidae
Hemiramphidae
decomposers/microfauna
phytoplankton
organic stuff
Scaridae
Ammodytes marinus
Clupea harengus
Alosa pseudoharengus
Scomber
Peprilus triacanthus
Actinonaias ellipsiformis
Merluccius bilinearis
Urophycis regia
Urophycis tenuis
Urophycis chuss
Arthropoda
Plantae
detritus
Mammalia
Belontiidae
Orchelimum vulgare
Salvelinus confluentus
Conepatus leuconotus
Phoca largha
Vanessa cardui
Alligator mississippiensis
Pulsatrix perspicillata
Ictonyx striatus
Martes zibellina
Rhinolophus inops
Misumena vatia

Based on studies in:
USA: California (Estuarine, Intertidal, Littoral)
USA: Florida, Everglades (Estuarine)
Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands shelf (Reef)
USA, Northeastern US contintental shelf (Coastal)
Ireland (River)
USA: Maine, Gulf of Maine (Littoral, Rocky shore)
Antarctic (Marine)
Ethiopia, Lake Abaya (Lake or pond)
Uganda (Lake or pond)
Netherlands: Wadden Sea, Ems estuary (Estuarine)
UK: Yorkshire, Aire, Nidd & Wharfe Rivers (River)
South Africa, Southwest coast (Marine)
Malaysia (Rainforest)
Russia (Agricultural)
Japan (Forest)
USA (Temporary pool)
Namibia, Namib Desert (Desert or dune)
Portugal (Estuarine)
USA: California, Coachella Valley (Desert or dune)
USA: Yellowstone (Temporary pool)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • G. E. MacGinitie, Ecological aspects of a California marine estuary, Am. Midland Nat. 16(5):629-765, from p. 652 (1935).
  • J. W. Nybakken, Marine Biology: An Ecological Approach (Harper and Row, New York, 1982), from p. 242.
  • N. N. Smirnov, Food cycles in sphagnous bogs, Hydrobiologia 17:175-182, from p. 179 (1961).
  • L. Saldanha, Estudio Ambiental do Estuario do Tejo, Publ. no. 5(4) (CNA/Tejo, Lisbon, 1980).
  • M. J. Burgis, I. G. Dunn, G. G. Ganf, L. M. McGowan and A. B. Viner, Lake George, Uganda: Studies on a tropical freshwater ecosystem. In: Productivity Problems of Freshwaters, Z. Kajak and A. Hillbricht-Ilkowska, Eds. (Polish Scientific, Warsaw, 1972), p
  • Y. Kitazawa, Ecosystem metabolism of the subalpine coniferous forest of the Shigayama IBP area. In: Ecosystem Analysis of the Subalpine Coniferous Forest of Shigayama IBP Area, Central Japan, Y. Kitazawa, Ed. (Japanese Committee for the International Biol
  • E. Holm and C. H. Scholtz, Structure and pattern of the Namib Desert dune ecosystem at Gobabeb, Madoqua 12(1):3-39, from p. 21 (1980).
  • D. C. Edwards, D. O. Conover, F. Sutter, Mobile predators and the structure of marine intertidal communities, Ecology 63(4):1175-1180, from p. 1178 (1982).
  • F. B. van Es, A preliminary carbon budget for a part of the Ems estuary: The Dollard, Helgolander wiss. Meeresunters. 30:283-294, from p. 292 (1977).
  • W. E. Odum and E. J. Heald, The detritus-based food web of an estuarine mangrove community, In Estuarine Research, Vol. 1, Chemistry, Biology and the Estuarine System, Academic Press, New York, pp. 265-286, from p. 281 (1975).
  • E. Percival and H. Whitehead, 1929. A quantitative study of the fauna of some types of stream-bed. J. Ecol. 17:282-314, from p. 311 & overleaf.
  • N. C. Collins, R. Mitchell and R. G. Wiegert, 1976. Functional analysis of a thermal spring ecosystem, with an evaluation of the role of consumers. Ecology 57:1221-1232, from p. 1222.
  • J. L. Harrison, The distribution of feeding habits among animals in a tropical rain forest, J. Anim. Ecol. 31:53-63, from p. 61 (1962).
  • J. A. Kitching and F. J. Ebling, Ecological studies at Lough Ine, Adv. Ecol. Res. 4:197-291, from p. 288 (1967).
  • N. A. Mackintosh, A survey of antarctic biology up to 1945. In: Biologie antarctique, R. Carrick, M. Holdgate, J. Prevost, Eds. (Hermann, Paris, 1964), pp. 3-38.
  • D. Riedel, Der Margheritensee (Sudabessinien) - Zugleich ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Abessinischen Graben-Seen, Arch. Hydrobiol. 58(4):435-466, from p. 457 (1962).
  • N. C. Collins, R. Mitchell and R. G. Wiegert, Functional analysis of a thermal spring ecosystem, with an evaluation of the role of consumers, Ecology 57:1221-1232, from p. 1222 (1976).
  • Link J (2002) Does food web theory work for marine ecosystems? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 230:1–9
  • Polis GA (1991) Complex desert food webs: an empirical critique of food web theory. Am Nat 138:123–155
  • Opitz S (1996) Trophic interactions in Caribbean coral reefs. ICLARM Tech Rep 43, Manila, Philippines
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
  • Yodzis P (2000) Diffuse effects in food webs. Ecology 81:261–266
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Fluid protects eggs: birds
 

Albumen, the fluid in bird eggs, protects the chick by being elastic and incompressible.

   
  "The egg's shock absorption, which has received little investigation, is  based on the fact that the embryo is surrounded by the albumen, an  elastic gelatin-Iike substance of high water content. The result is a  propitious combination of properties: a liquid that cannot be  compressed, only displaced, and an elastic substance. When the embryo is  pushed against the shell by some forceful impact, the liquid must flow  past it and transform the destructive energy into heat. The shock  absorption of the egg is further improved by an air cushion located at  the thick end of the egg--the same end as the center of gravity. In a  falling body the center of gravity moves to the lowest possible point,  so in an egg the embryo falls on the air cushion. The air pocket in the  egg has another mechanical function. It prevents temperature  fluctuations from cracking the shell." (Tributsch 1984:22)

"However ordinary it may seem to us, the egg of a chicken has about fifteen thousand pores resembling dimples on a golf ball. The spongy structure of smaller eggs can only be observed under the microscope. These spongy structures give eggs added flexibility and increase their resistance to impact…An egg is a miracle of packaging. It supplies all the nutrients and water that the developing foetus needs. The yolk of the egg stores protein, fats, vitamins and minerals, and the white works as a reservoir of fluid…The developing chick needs to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. It also requires a source of heat, calcium for its bone development, protection of its fluids, protection against bacteria and physical impact. The eggshell provides all of these for the chick, which breathes through a membranous sac that develops in the embryo. Blood vessels in this sac bring oxygen to the embryo and take carbon dioxide away." (Yahya 2002:69)

  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Tributsch, H. 1984. How life learned to live. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 218 p.
  • Harun Yahya. 2002. Design in Nature. London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd. 180 p.
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Functional adaptation

Air flow system, sacs provide efficient gas exchange: birds
 

The respiratory system of birds efficiently transports oxygen via unidirectional air flow and air sac reservoirs.

         
  "The respiratory system of birds is different in both structure and function from the respiratory system of mammals. Avian lungs are small, compact, spongy structures molded among the ribs on either side of the spine in the chest cavity. The dense tissues of avian lungs weigh as much as the lungs of mammals of equal body weight but occupy only about half the volume. Healthy bird lungs are well vascularized and light pink in color.

"Avian lungs are unique in that the air flows in only one direction, rather than in and out as in other vertebrates. How do birds control the air so that it flows through their lungs when they can only inhale and exhale through one trachea? The solution is a surprising combination of unique anatomical features and the manipulation of airflow. Supplementing the lungs is an elaborate system of interconnected air sacs, not present in mammals…Most birds inhale air through nostrils, or nares, at the base of the bill…Inhaled air moves next down the trachea, or windpipe, which divides into two bronchi and in turn into many subdividing stems and branches in each lung…Most of the lung tissue comprises roughly 1800 smaller interconnecting tertiary bronchi. These bronchi lead into tiny air capillaries that intertwine with blood capillaries, where gases are exchanged.

"Inhaled air proceeds through two respiratory cycles that, together, consist of four steps. Most of the air inhaled in step 1 passes through the primary bronchi to the posterior air sacs…In step 2, the exhalation phase of this first breath, the inhaled air moves from the posterior air sacs into the lungs. There, oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange takes place as inhaled air flows through the air-capillary system. The net time that the bird inhales, step 3, the oxygen-depleted air moves from the lungs into the anterior air sacs. The second and final exhalation, step 4, expels CO2-rich air from the anterior air sacs, bronchi, and trachea back into the atmosphere.

"This series of four steps maximizes contact of fresh air with the respiratory surfaces of the lung. Most importantly, a bird replaces nearly all the air in its lungs with each breath. No residual air is left in the lungs during the ventilation cycle of birds, as it is in mammals. By transferring more air and air higher in oxygen content during each breath, birds achieve a more efficient rate of gas exchange than do mammals…The air-sac system is an inconspicuous, but integral, part of the avian respiratory system…Air sacs are thin-walled (only one or two cell layers thick) structures that extend into the body cavity and into the wing and leg bones…The air sacs make possible the continuous, unidirectional, efficient flow of air through the lungs." (Gill 2007:143-147)

(See gallery for illustration)

  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Gill FB. 2007. Ornithology. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. 758 p.
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Functional adaptation

Feather parts reattach: birds
 

Feather filaments of birds connect to each other with interlocking hooks.

   
  "A central shaft carries on either side a hundred or so filaments; each filament is similarly fringed with about a hundred smaller filaments or barbules. In downy feathers, this structure produces a soft, air-trapping fluffiness and, therefore, superb insulation. Flight feathers have an additional feature. Their barbules overlap those of neighbouring filaments and hook them onto one another so that they are united into a continuous vane. There are several hundred such hooks on a single barbule, a million or so in a single feather; and a bird the size of a swan has about twenty-five thousand feathers." (Attenborough 1979:173)

"Disarranged feathers are carefully repositioned. Those that have become bedraggled or have broken vanes are renovated by careful combing with the beak. As the filaments pass through the mandibles and are pressed together, the hooks on the barbules reengage like teeth of a zip-fastener to make a smooth and continuous surface again." (Attenborough 1979:179)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Beak size optimized for thermal regulation: birds
 

The beak size of birds is optimized for thermal regulation because they vary in size relative to latitude and environmental temperature, a concept called Allen's rule.

     
  "Allen's rule proposes that the appendages of endotherms are smaller, relative to body size, in colder climates, in order to reduce heat loss. Empirical support for Allen's rule is mainly derived from occasional reports of geographical clines in extremity size of individual species. Interspecific evidence is restricted to two studies of leg proportions in seabirds and shorebirds. We used phylogenetic comparative analyses of 214 bird species to examine whether bird bills, significant sites of heat exchange, conform to Allen's rule. The species comprised eight diverse taxonomic groups—toucans, African barbets, Australian parrots, estrildid finches, Canadian galliforms, penguins, gulls, and terns. Across all species, there were strongly significant relationships between bill length and both latitude and environmental temperature, with species in colder climates having significantly shorter bills. Patterns supporting Allen's rule in relation to latitudinal or altitudinal distribution held within all groups except the finches. Evidence for a direct association with temperature was found within four groups (parrots, galliforms, penguins, and gulls). Support for Allen's rule in leg elements was weaker, suggesting that bird bills may be more susceptible to thermoregulatory constraints generally. Our results provide the strongest comparative support yet published for Allen's rule and demonstrate that thermoregulation has been an important factor in shaping the evolution of bird bills." (Symonds and Tattersall 2010:188)

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  • Symonds MRE; Tattersall GJ. 2010. Geographical variation in bill size across bird species provides evidence for Allen’s rule. The American Naturalist. 176(2): 188-97.
  • The University of Melbourne. 2010. Birds reduce their heating bills in cold climates. The Melbourne Newsroom [Internet],
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Functional adaptation

Preening waterproofs feathers: birds
 

The uropygial gland of birds protects them from water penetration, fungi, and bacteria by producing preen waxes.

       
  "In addition to the stratum corneum barrier, glandular lipids are deposited exteriorly to the epidermis in both mammals and birds (Hadley, 1991)…In birds, 'preen waxes' from the uropygial gland are spread over feathers to prevent water penetration and ingress of bacteria and fungi. Uropygial secretions contain a complex mixture of lipids in which wax esters usually predominate…In birds and mammals, plumage and pelage appear to impede significantly the passage of water vapor from skin to atmosphere, although the skin remains the principal barrier to TEWL [transepidermal water loss] (Cena and Clark, 1979; Webster et al., 1985). In pigeons, for example, plumage contributes 5–20% of total resistance to water loss through the integument, and the plumage and boundary layer together account for 6–26% of total resistance to water vapor diffusion (Webster et al., 1985). Therefore, adjustments of plumage or pelage and seasonal shedding patterns are potential means of adjusting rates of TEWL." (Lillywhite 2006:219)
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  • Lillywhite, H. B. 2006. Water relations of tetrapod integument. Journal of Experimental Biology. 209(2): 202-226.
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Functional adaptation

Bones absorb compression shock: birds
 

The fused pelvic vertebrae, or synsacrum, of a flying bird absorbs compression shock whenever the bird lands at high speed.

       
  "Several features of the bird skeleton are specially designed for life in the air. The pelvic vertebrae are fused into a solid mass of light bone, the synsacrum, which provides support for the independent movement of wings and legs, and absorbs the compression shock that occurs every time a bird lands on its feet at speed." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:39)
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  • Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
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Functional adaptation

Shape of feather shafts protect from wind: birds
 

The shafts of feathers and petioles of leaves protect from wind by having non-circular cross sections.

   
  "In cross section, feathers look like grooved petioles upside down. Again, that makes functional sense. If an elongated structure must have a groove to raise EI/GJ ('twistiness-to-bendiness ratio'), the groove should be on the side that's loaded in tension. That location won't increase the structure's tendency to buckle, since tensile loading is nearly shape-indifferent. A leaf blade bends its petiole downward; its aerodynamic loading bends a feather upward--leaf blades hang from the ends of their petioles; flying birds hang from bases of their wing feathers." (Vogel 2003:385)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
  • Corning WR; Beiwener AA. 1998. In vivo strains in pigeon flight feather shafts: implications for structural design. Journal of Experimental Biology. 201: 3057-3065.
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Functional adaptation

Eyes see in various wavelengths: birds
 

Eyes of some birds, insects, and fish see better than humans because they can detect ultraviolet and/or infrared light.

         
  "The eyes of some birds, insects, and fish respond to ultraviolet wavelengths. Other animals have a spectral response that includes red or near-infrared. This response is helpful in penetrating cloudy or murky conditions." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
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  • Wolpert, HD. February 2002. Photonic systems in nature can offer technical insights to designers of optical systems and detectors. Spie's Oemagazine. 26-29.
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Functional adaptation

Shells resist external loading: birds
 

The eggs of birds resist external loading via composite structure.

   
  "The eggshells of birds are mechanically impressive devices, surprisingly resistant to external loading; Vincent (1990), though, complained about how little we understand them, muttering at 'half-boiled notions' in the literature. They're mostly mineral but have a critical 2-4 percent of organic matter, making them into composites. Still, cracks can propagate, of which fact the chick takes advantage to get out--before pushing, it pecks around a circle so it can then break the egg along the dotted line." (Vogel 2003:340)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Wingtip feathers increase aerodynamic efficiency: flying birds
 

Wingtip feathers in birds are aerodynamically efficient because of their torsional flexibility.

         
  "Nature, by contrast, takes a less disdainful attitude toward torsion--in some applications adequate resistance matters, but in many others function depends on having sufficient torsional flexibility. A bird's wingtip feathers must twist in one direction during the upstroke of the wings and in the other direction during the downstroke to keep the local wind striking the wing at an appropriate angle to generate lift and thrustThe turning could be done at the base, with a completely inflexible feather; the aerodynamics are improved and material saved if the local flow forces twist the feather by just the right amount." (Vogel 2003:382)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
                                        
Specimen Records:51,628Public Records:26,132
Specimens with Sequences:37,146Public Species:3,840
Specimens with Barcodes:36,027Public BINs:4,372
Species:5,773         
Species With Barcodes:4,828         
          
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Barcode data

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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Aves

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