Birds of a feather

September 4, 2017

Is a bird a bird because it flaps its wings and flies? What then about the flightless ones, what are they to be called?

Like the clothes doesn’t make the man, the flying doesn’t make the bird. Birds are birds because they have feathers, beaks, hollow bones, are endothermic and because they lay eggs. Their feathers are made of keratin, just like human fingernails, and their wings have the same bones as a human arm.

These animals of the feathered kind form an integral part of the ecosystem, also here in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. They help with seed and pollen dispersal, devour insects, clean up and transfer nutrients. And in the ultimate sacrifice, they are food for other species.

Anatomically birds are a study of perfection. Each individual part, from the beak to the toes has its specific role in the different species. They all fit together like the perfect puzzle, each with its own particular place in the complete bird.

While they don’t have teeth, birds are blessed with unique beaks. It acts as its mouth and is used for eating, feeding, looking for food and also for fighting and courtship. Evolution has played a major role in the different shaped beaks in the different species as each has its own unique lifestyle.

The kaleidoscope of colours on birds, or perceived lack thereof in some instances, are there for a reason. Sometimes it is to attract a mate, other times to hide from the enemy.

“My goodness, what big eyes you have!” can certainly be ascribed to birds. Relative to body size, birds have large eyes which means better vision. Even better is that they see colours that are invisible to the human eye.

In the animal kingdom size doesn’t matter as each individual member has a role to play. The smallest bird in the world is the bee hummingbird, which is barely larger than a bee, hence its name. The largest, in regards to body weight and wingspan, is the Andean condor.

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