June 7, 2008

The Basics on Birds

Originally sent: 02/21/08

I had an interesting conversation last night while hanging out with my gals at the Delton Lanes. (Note: you must refer to women as “gals” while participating in a bowling league.) Anyway, the talk turned, as it so often does, to Your Bird of the Week.

When I told my gals that I didn’t know what bird to focus on this week, Amber (in one of her Bamber moments) told me I should write one on bats. When informed that bats are mammals, Amber asked, “Birds aren’t mammals?”

When informed that no, birds are not mammals, Amber answered, “Oh yeah, because they don’t have bones, right?”

Sigh. Now, I admit, I might have felt superior for a minute. But Amber bowled a few 130s last night, whereas I barely managed to break the 80s. And, considering that bowling skills are far more valuable than zoology knowledge, I realized I had little room to gloat. Still, I concluded that maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves with the Bird of the Week. Maybe some background knowledge is called for.

So, without further ado…Your BOTW is the, um, bird.

Fact: Birds are not mammals. They belong to a biological class known as Aves. However, birds and mammals do belong to the same sub-phlyum, vertebrata, which is made up of animals with backbones or spinal columns. This leads us to our next fact…

Fact: Birds do have bones, however the bones are very lightweight, with large air-filled cavities that are connected to the respiratory system. Basically, birds add air to their skeletal systems, which helps them fly. This leads us to our next fact…

Fact: The ability to fly does not necessarily make an animal a bird (e.g. bats, insects, hang-gliding humans); and the lack of ability to fly does not necessarily mean an animal is not a bird (e.g. ostriches, emus, penguins). In fact, around 60 species of birds are flightless.

Fact: All birds, whether they can fly or not, have forelimbs modified as wings. They also lay hard-shelled eggs, have a four-chambered heart, and are lucky enough to have a high metabolic rate.

Fact: Feathers are unique to birds and help them fly, regulate their temperature, blend in with their surroundings, and attract mates. It is estimated that, on average, birds spend 9 percent of their day preening or grooming their feathers.

Fact: Birds lack teeth, but swallowed stones in their gizzard help grind up food.

Fact: Birds are made up of generalists (which eat a variety of things like bugs, seeds, small mammals, etc.) and specialists (which concentrate their time and efforts on specific food items).

Here’s an idea: Read the Bird of the Week in the future and determine for yourself whether you’re reading about a generalist or a specialist! Fun!

This has been Your BOTW.
P.S. Love ya, Bamber. Thanks for always being a good sport.

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