8 Reasons Why Birds Are Incredible

national-bird-dayBirds are amazing for many different reasons, and National Bird Day is one day each year that we can acknowledge some of the reasons these creatures are so amazing. What makes birds so incredible?

  1. They fly

Perhaps the coolest feature of all, flight certainly makes birds unique. Because of this incredible ability, birds now live in every continent and in every climate. The fact that some birds fly hundreds of miles to migrate without ever having to stop is simply amazing.

  1. They talk

Parrots, in particular, have learned to speak human words and communicate with people on a level unrivaled by any other animal. The fact that these birds learn not only to speak words but also to use this language communicate with people in context makes them truly amazing. In fact, the best talking parrots – the African grays – have been compared in intellect to a five-year-old child.

  1. They have hollow bones

Among the many adaptations birds have evolved to accommodate flight is the presence of hollow (or pneumatized) bones. Certain long bones, such as the humerus (upper arm) and femur (thigh) are hollow in some species to lighten the bones for flight. Birds with hollow bones can fly longer distances without becoming exhausted, and in some species, the hollow cavity in these bones is actually filled with an extension of the bird’s air sacs, a component of their respiratory tracts that works with their lungs to provide oxygen to their bodies as they fly.

  1. Their coats are waterproof

Nearly all parrots and most other bird species have a gland at the base of their tail called the preen, or uropygial, gland that produces the oil that birds preen over their feathers to waterproof them. Birds gather the oil from the gland on their beaks and then spread it over their feathers. Regardless of the weather, then, birds are prepared.

  1. They have two stomachs

Unlike humans, whose single stomach both enzymatically digests and grinds up food, most birds have two separate stomachs that perform these tasks individually. The first stomach, or proventriculus, has glands that secrete enzymes to break down food so that it can be absorbed, and the second stomach, or ventriculus (also called the gizzard) contains strong muscles that contract to grind food, making it easier to digest. Rather than passing food one direction through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, as people do, birds move food back and forth from the proventriculus to the ventriculus and then back to the proventriculus again to ensure digestion is thorough.

  1. Some have binocular vision

Many birds have monocular vision, like we do, meaning their two eyes move together so that they can only see one direction at a time. However, some birds, such as raptors (owls, hawks, and eagles), have eyes that can move independent of each other, enabling them to see two different directions at once. This adaption is key to helping them both to hunt and to avoid predation and injury.

  1. Some hunt by sound

Many animals hunt by sight, but some birds, such as owls, hunt completely by sound and do not need to see their prey to catch it. Studies of barn owls have shown that by using sound alone, they can hunt and catch prey completely in the dark. Owls’ ears are actually asymmetrically placed on either side of their heads to help them hear sounds more acutely.

  1. There are thousands of different species

Recent studies show that there are 9,956 different species of birds – many more than there are mammals (of which there are 5,416 species) or reptiles (of which there are 8,420 species). They range in size from hummingbirds (that weigh less than a tenth of an ounce) to ostriches (that weigh 220-250 pounds) and come in every color imaginable. Their variety is profound.

Birds are fascinating creatures that have features unlike other animals. National Bird Day is certainly a great day to acknowledge these unbelievable animals; however, as any bird owner will tell you, birds make amazing companions all year round. They make incredible bonds with their owners and communicate with people on levels unrivaled by other species. Their unique anatomies, profound intelligence, and huge diversity make them truly special.

To learn more about pet birds and other unique exotic pets, read my new book, Unlikely Companions: The Adventures of an Exotic Animal Doctor, available on Amazon.com and through www.LaurieHessDVM.com.


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Positively Expert: Laurie Hess

Dr. Hess is board-certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in avian (bird) medicine and served as the President of the Association of Avian Veterinarians from 2009-2010. She is also an active member of the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians and the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.


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