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Birds - Types & Characteristics

Birds have accomplished one of Humanity's oldest dreams: to fly. These remarkable animals have highly specialized anatomy, fascinating behavior, and often enchanting colors.

There are around 10,000 species of birds on our planet, living on all continents. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from the tiny hummingbird to the majestic, huge albatross.

On this page, we are going to take a closer look at birds, their key characteristics, and their different types, among other things. Keep reading to learn more about them!

8 Characteristics of Birds

  1. Feathers: Birds are the only animals that are covered with feathers. Feathers are useful to insulate the body, they are an essential part of birds’ ability to fly, and they are also used in courtship in various species.
  2. Beak: Birds do not have a mouth with teeth. Instead, they have a beak that they use for many different things: eat of course, but also manipulate things, build nests, attack, or defend themselves. Beaks come in many sizes and shapes, often related to the bird’s diet and/or lifestyle.
  3. Wings: Birds have two wings that they use to fly, even though some birds have lost the ability to fly. Like feathers, wings are sometimes used for display or courtship.
  4. Lightweight skeleton: Bones usually represent a significant portion of the body weight. Since birds have evolved to fly, their bones have also evolved to become more lightweight: they are hollow and filled with air.
  5. Endothermy: Just like mammals, birds are able to regulate their body temperature internally. This enables them to live in very varied environments and even migrate.
  6. Eggs: Birds lay eggs. Eggs are fertilized internally, and they are incubated by one parent or both parents. The incubation lasts until the chick is able to leave the nest. Eggs are perfectly waterproof.
  7. Bipedalism: Birds are bipedal, they stand – and/or perch on two hind legs.
  8. Migration: Many bird species are migratory, sometimes covering really impressive long distances between the regions where they breed and the regions where they spend the winter. Sometimes, migration also occurs depending on food availability.

Birds - Feeding

The 40 Types of Birds

The class Aves contains 40 orders. In other words, there that no less than 40 types of birds that exist on our planet. These 40 orders are made of 248 families. Here is a list and brief description of all 40 orders, with examples and pictures:

Frequently Asked Questions About Birds

Birds fly by flapping their wings, using their powerful breast muscles. The shape and size of the wings and the flight feathers are perfect to catch the air and generate the necessary thrust. The shape of the wing is such that the air flows faster above the wing and slower under the wing, and this is what generates lift. An airplane’s wing works the same way.

Some birds fly at night, especially nocturnal birds such as owls and nightjars. Other birds fly at night during their long-distance migrations. Another possible reason for a bird to fly at night is if the bird has been disturbed and scared off by something, and flies to find another spot to spend the night.

The primary reasons for birds to migrate are resource availability and habitat and weather conditions in order to breed, raise their young, and of course, simply find food. Some species fly thousands of miles across countries and continents.  

Birds do not have a mouth with teeth. Instead, they have a beak. As a result, birds do not chew their food, they swallow it whole. 

Birds’ ancestors used to have teeth, but they lost them about 100 million years ago.

Bats are not birds, they are mammals. In fact, bats are the only mammals that have developed wings enabling them to sustain flight.

Dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds. More precisely, it is now established that birds evolved from small carnivorous dinosaurs called therapods. The Archaeopteryx is considered to be the first bird (because of its ability to fly) and an intermediate between dinosaurs and today’s birds. 

Recent research suggests that living birds actually are modern-day dinosaurs, belonging to the therapod group.

Birds usually fly at low altitudes. During migration, however, they gain altitude and fly from 1500 m to 6000 m (5,000 ft to 20,000 ft). The highest-flying bird ever recorded is Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, flying at 11,300 m (37,000 ft)!

Yes, all birds lay eggs, it is one of their shared characteristics. Eggs are then incubated by one or both parents.

Birds sometimes fly in circles to take advantage of thermals. Thermals are masses of warmer air naturally raising. Birds can catch and use these raising air masses to fly and gain altitude without spending a lot of energy.

Another reason for birds to fly in circles is to take the time to carefully observe an area on the ground in search of food or water. Finally, another potential reason would be to confuse predators and make it harder for them to attack.

Like mammals, birds are endotherms. In other words, they are warm-blooded. They are able to produce their own heat and maintain a constant, high body temperature regardless of environmental conditions. 

Recent research from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, estimates that there are at least 50 billion birds in the world. 

Birds can fly during the rain, but most of the time, they choose to avoid it. Birds are waterproof thanks to the oil that they spread on their feathers while preening. As a result, rain doesn’t affect their ability to fly. However, during heavy rain, most birds will have more difficulty flying.

Apart from the water itself, low atmospheric pressure during storms also makes it more difficult for them to fly, as they need a denser air to fly properly.

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Learn More About Bird Species

Links to articles packed with surprising facts and knowledge to further learn about amazing species of birds, so you know what you are looking at on your next wildlife trip!