The Birds Portal

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Birds are a group of warm-blooded vertebrates constituting the class Aves /ˈvz/, characterised by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a strong yet lightweight skeleton. Birds live worldwide and range in size from the 5.5 cm (2.2 in) bee hummingbird to the 2.8 m (9 ft 2 in) ostrich. There are about ten thousand living species, more than half of which are passerine, or "perching" birds. Birds have wings whose development varies according to species; the only known groups without wings are the extinct moa and elephant birds. Wings, which evolved from forelimbs, gave birds the ability to fly, although further evolution has led to the loss of flight in some birds, including ratites, penguins, and diverse endemic island species. The digestive and respiratory systems of birds are also uniquely adapted for flight. Some bird species of aquatic environments, particularly seabirds and some waterbirds, have further evolved for swimming.

Birds are feathered theropod dinosaurs and constitute the only known living dinosaurs. Likewise, birds are considered reptiles in the modern cladistic sense of the term, and their closest living relatives are the crocodilians. Birds are descendants of the primitive avialans (whose members include Archaeopteryx) which first appeared about 160 million years ago (mya) in China. According to DNA evidence, modern birds (Neornithes) evolved in the Middle to Late Cretaceous, and diversified dramatically around the time of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 mya, which killed off the pterosaurs and all non-avian dinosaurs.

Many social species pass on knowledge across generations, which is considered a form of culture. Birds are social, communicating with visual signals, calls, and songs, and participating in such behaviours as cooperative breeding and hunting, flocking, and mobbing of predators. The vast majority of bird species are socially (but not necessarily sexually) monogamous, usually for one breeding season at a time, sometimes for years, and rarely for life. Other species have breeding systems that are polygynous (one male with many females) or, rarely, polyandrous (one female with many males). Birds produce offspring by laying eggs which are fertilised through sexual reproduction. They are usually laid in a nest and incubated by the parents. Most birds have an extended period of parental care after hatching.

Many species of birds are economically important as food for human consumption and raw material in manufacturing, with domesticated and undomesticated birds being important sources of eggs, meat, and feathers. Songbirds, parrots, and other species are popular as pets. Guano (bird excrement) is harvested for use as a fertiliser. Birds figure throughout human culture. About 120 to 130 species have become extinct due to human activity since the 17th century, and hundreds more before then. Human activity threatens about 1,200 bird species with extinction, though efforts are underway to protect them. Recreational birdwatching is an important part of the ecotourism industry. (Full article...)

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Featured articles

  • At Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
    At Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • G. tibicen hypoleuca, Tasmania
    G. tibicen hypoleuca, Tasmania
  • Pigeon with German miniature camera, probably during the First World War
    Pigeon with German miniature camera, probably during the First World War
  • Black currawong, Tasmania
    Black currawong, Tasmania
  • Image 6 The mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is a member of the dove family, Columbidae. The bird is also known as the American mourning dove, the rain dove, and colloquially as the turtle dove, and was once known as the Carolina pigeon and Carolina turtledove. It is one of the most abundant and widespread of all North American birds and a popular gamebird, with more than 20 million birds (up to 70 million in some years) shot annually in the U.S., both for sport and meat. Its ability to sustain its population under such pressure is due to its prolific breeding; in warm areas, one pair may raise up to six broods of two young each in a single year. The wings make an unusual whistling sound upon take-off and landing, a form of sonation. The bird is a strong flier, capable of speeds up to 88 km/h (55 mph). Mourning doves are light gray and brown and generally muted in color. Males and females are similar in appearance. The species is generally monogamous, with two squabs (young) per brood. Both parents incubate and care for the young. Mourning doves eat almost exclusively seeds, but the young are fed crop milk by their parents. It is the national bird of the British Virgin Islands. (Full article...)
  • Subfossil skull and limb bones, 1879
    Subfossil skull and limb bones, 1879
  • Illustration of a male (front) and female, by John Gerrard Keulemans, 1876
    Illustration of a male (front) and female, by John Gerrard Keulemans, 1876
  • Image 9 The western yellow robin (Eopsaltria griseogularis) is a species of bird in the Australasian robin family, Petroicidae, native to Australia. Described by John Gould in 1838, the western yellow robin and its Australian relatives are not closely related to either the European or American robins, but they appear to be an early offshoot of the Passerida group of songbirds. Ranging between 13.5 and 15.5 cm (5+1⁄4 and 6 in) long, it has grey upperparts, and a grey breast and head, broken by whitish streaks near the bill and below the eye, with a conspicuous yellow belly. The sexes are similar in appearance. Two subspecies are recognized: subspecies griseogularis, which has a yellow rump, and subspecies rosinae with an olive-green rump. The species inhabits open eucalypt jungle, woodland, and scrub, generally favouring habitats with significant understory. Its range comprises the Southwest of Western Australia and the state
  • Cardellina rubra melanauris Sinaloa, Mexico
    Cardellina rubra melanauris
    Sinaloa, Mexico
  • Title page of volume 1
    Title page of volume 1
  • Prize-winning Aylesbury duck (front) and drake (rear), 1873
    Prize-winning Aylesbury duck (front) and drake (rear), 1873
  • Image 13 Ham Wall is an English wetland National Nature Reserve (NNR) 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of Glastonbury on the Somerset Levels. It is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Since the last Ice Age, decomposing plants in the marshes of the Brue valley in Somerset have accumulated as deep layers of peat that were commercially exploited on a large scale in the twentieth century. Consumer demand eventually declined, and in 1994 the landowners, Fisons, gave their old workings to what is now Natural England, who passed the management of the 260 hectares (640 acres) Ham Wall section to the RSPB. The Ham Wall reserve was constructed originally to provide reed bed habitat for the Eurasian bittern, which at the time was at a very low population level in the UK. The site is divided into several sections with independently controllable water levels, and machinery and cattle are used to maintain the quality of the reed beds. There are important breeding populations of wetland birds including the rare little bittern and great white egret, and the area hosts several other uncommon animals and plants. The RSPB works with other organisations as part of the Avalon Marshes Partnership to coordinate conservation issues across the Somerset Levels. The reserve is open year-round, and has nature trails, hides and viewing points. It lies within the Somerset Levels NNR and the Somerset Levels and Moors
  • Grey-cowled wood rail
    Grey-cowled wood rail
  • Holotype left tibiotarsus in two views
    Holotype left tibiotarsus in two views
  • In Buenos Aires
    In Buenos Aires
  • View from south-west
    View from south-west
  • Adult and juvenile specimens, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris; the juvenile could possibly also be from Kangaroo Island
    Adult and juvenile specimens, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris; the juvenile could possibly also be from Kangaroo Island
  • In flight, Kilauea Point, Kauai, Hawaii
    In flight, Kilauea Point, Kauai, Hawaii
  • The Berlin Archaeopteryx specimen (A. siemensii).
    The Berlin Archaeopteryx specimen (A. siemensii).

Selected general bird topic

The hooded pitohui. A neurotoxin called homobatrachotoxin found in the birds' skin and feathers causes numbness and tingling in those touching the bird.
The hooded pitohui. A neurotoxin called homobatrachotoxin found in the birds' skin and feathers causes numbness and tingling in those touching the bird.

Toxic birds are birds that use toxins to defend themselves from predators. No species of bird is known to actively inject or produce venom, but the discovered toxic birds are known to be poisonous to touch and eat. These birds usually sequester poison from animals and plants they feed on, especially poisonous insects. Birds with known toxic traits include the pitohui and ifrita birds from Papua New Guinea, the European quail, the spur-winged goose, hoopoes, the bronzewing pigeon, and the red warbler, among others.

The pitohui, the ifrita, and the rufous or little shrikethrush all sequester batrachotoxin in their skin and feathers. The African spur-winged goose is toxic to eat as it sequesters poison in its tissues, from the blister beetles that it feeds on. European quail are also known to be toxic and are able to cause coturnism at certain stages in their migrations. (Full article...)
List of selected general topics

Selected taxon

North Island piopio in front, South Island piopio at rear
North Island piopio in front, South Island piopio at rear
The piopios or turnagras are an extinct genus of passerine birds in the family Oriolidae, that were endemic to New Zealand. Sometimes described as New Zealand thrushes, the piopios had only a coincidental, passing resemblance to the thrush family. (Full article...)
List of selected taxon articles



--Coleman Cox, [1]

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Free online resources:

There is also Birds of North America, Cornell University's massive project collecting information on every breeding bird in the ABA area. It is available for US$40 a year.

For more sources, including printed sources, see WikiProject Birds.


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Selected bird anatomy topic

A rooster's wattles hang from the throat
A rooster's wattles hang from the throat

A wattle is a fleshy caruncle hanging from various parts of the head or neck in several groups of birds and mammals. Caruncles in birds include those found on the face, wattles, dewlaps, snoods, and earlobes. Wattles are generally paired structures, but may occur as a single structure when it is sometimes known as a dewlap. Wattles are frequently organs of sexual dimorphism. In some birds, caruncles are erectile tissue and may or may not have a feather covering.

Wattles are often such a striking morphological characteristic of animals that it features in their common name. For example, the southern and northern cassowaries are known as the double-wattled and single-wattled cassowary, respectively, and a breed of domestic pig is known as the Red Wattle. (Full article...)
List of selected anatomy articles

Selected species

Two arctic terns
The arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) is a seabird of the tern family Sternidae. This bird has a circumpolar distribution, breeding colonially in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America (as far south as Brittany and Massachusetts). The species is strongly migratory, seeing two summers each year as it migrates from its northern breeding grounds to the oceans around Antarctica and back each year. This is the longest regular migration by any known animal. Arctic terns are medium-sized birds. They are mainly grey and white plumaged, with a red beak (as long as the head, straight, with pronounced gonys) and feet, white forehead, a black nape and crown (streaked white), and white cheeks. The arctic tern is K-selected, caring for and aggressively defending a small number of young. Parents feed them fish for a considerable time, and help them fly south to winter. Arctic terns are long-lived birds, with many reaching twenty years of age. They eat mainly fish and small marine invertebrates. The species has an estimated one million individuals. Exploitation in the past has reduced this bird's numbers in the southern reaches of its range.

Did you know

  • ...that sexual size dimorphism in the brown songlark is among the most pronounced in any bird, with males as much as 2.3 times heavier than females?
  • ...that rufous whistler birds, unlike all other whistler birds, never forage on the ground but high up in trees or other high places?
  • ...that the bill of the magpie duck (pictured) becomes green as the bird gets older, and its black crown may go completely white?


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Taxonomy of Aves

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  1. ^ Woods, R.L. (1967). The Modern Handbook of Humor. McGraw-Hill. p. 30. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
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