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Landfall-Learning > Environment > Birds


Birds are warm-blooded vertebrate animals that have wings, feathers, a beak, no teeth, and strong, hollow bones. There are over 9,000 species of birds worldwide. Their ability to fly has enabled birds to live almost everywhere on earth, from the oceans and frozen polar zones to steaming rain forests and barren deserts. Birds are the only animals on earth that have feathers, and every animal on earth that has feathers is a bird! Other characteristics of birds include: forelimbs modified into wings, lack of teeth, a bill, a four chambered heart, eggs with hard shells, and the furculum (wishbone) among others.

Not all flying animals are birds; and not all birds can fly. The ability to fly has developed independently many times throughout the history of the Earth. Bats (flying mammals), pterosaurs (flying reptiles from the time of the dinosaurs), and flying insects are not birds.

Birds are incredibly diverse in size, color, and lifestyles. They range in size from the 2.5 inch, 0.08 ounce Bee Hummingbird to the Wandering Albatross with a wingspan of over 11 feet. And some birds can can really get around: Arctic Terns fly over 21,000 miles each year as they migrate from the Arctic tundra to the Antarctic ice pack edge and back! Wandering Albatrosses spend most of their life in flight, landing only to breed and feed. Distances traveled each year are hard to measure, but one banded Albatross was recorded traveling 3728 miles in just twelve days.

Other birds such as ostriches, rheas, emus, kiwis, and penguins can't fly at all, and depend on running, camouflage, or isolation for protection from predators. Penguins and other water-diving birds use their wings for "flying" under water, where they chase fish to eat.

Ornithology is the study of birds. A scientist who studies birds is called an ornithologist.

Wandering Albatross
Photo by Tony Palliser
Arctic Tern
Photo by S.D. MacDonald, Canadian Museum of Nature
Bee Hummingbird
Photo by Martin Davies/BirdLife International


How small is a baby hummingbird?
How big is an ostrich egg?
Very small!
Almost 6 inches long and weighs over 3 pounds!
One ostrich egg equals up to 24 chicken eggs.
And it takes approximately 2 hours to hardboil!



How Big are Your Wings?

Time required
1-2 class periods
Performance Standards
1. Identify similarities and differences of organisms.
2. Describe differences in physical and behavioral traits that contribute to the survival of a particular living thing.
3. Describe motion in reference to space and time.

Background information
roll of butcher paper
paints of various colors (white, black, gray, red, blue, pink, brown, tan, yellow)
measuring tape (centimeters)

1. Print a copy of the bird wing anatomy. Photocopy and pass out to students or make a poster size copy of the information to show the class. Have the class identify the various parts of the wings.

A. Phalanges
B. Manus (or hand)
C. Alula
D. Metacarpals
E. Carpal joint (or wrist)
F. Ulna
G. Radius
H. "Elbow"
I. Humerus
J. "Shoulder" joint

2. Discuss the different parts of a bird's wing and compare it to our own arms. Differences include hollow/dense bone structure, phalanges/fingers, feathers/skin, weight, the necessity for gathering food, metabolism, and heart rate.

3. Discussion ideas:
Define adaptation.
Questions to ask might include: Why don't we fly and seabirds do? Do we need to fly to get our food? Why did birds develop this adaptation and we didn't?

4. Art activity:
Compare your own "wings" to the wings of the Laysan albatross and other seabirds.
Print a copy of the silhouettes of various seabirds from the Website. Using measuring tape, tape, butcher paper, pencils, and imagination, have students draw the silhouette of a Laysan Albatross, Great Frigatebird, Brown Pelican and Pterodactyl.

Laysan Albatross
Great Frigatebird
Brown Pelican

Cut out the birds and tape them to a wall. Let the students measure their own "wings" against the birds' wings.

Ask the question: Even if we had wings would we be able to fly? Why or why not?

Suggested comparisons to make:
Largest seabird wingspan (Wandering Albatross, 419 centimeters)
Smallest seabird (Least Tern, 21.59-24.13 centimeters from beak to tip of tail)
Smallest bird (Bee Hummingbird, 7.11-8.89 centimeters from beak to tip of tail)
Largest bird body (Ostrich, 274.32 centimeters tall, 68 kilograms, can't fly)
Largest bird egg (Ostrich egg,1400 grams)
Largest prehistoric flying animal, which was not a bird! (Pterodactyl, 8 meter wingspan)

Extra Credit
Convert the metric measurements into feet, inches and pounds.