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Introduction

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Birds, also known as Aves or avian dinosaurs, are a group of endothermic vertebrates, 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 cm (2 in) bee hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) ostrich. They rank as the world's most numerically successful class of tetrapods, with approximately ten thousand living species, more than half of these being 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 of birds. 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.

The fossil record demonstrates that birds are modern feathered dinosaurs, having evolved from earlier feathered dinosaurs within the theropod group, which are traditionally placed within the saurischian dinosaurs. The closest living relatives of birds are the crocodilians. Primitive bird-like dinosaurs that lie outside class Aves proper, in the broader group Avialae, have been found dating back to the mid-Jurassic period, around 170 million years ago. Many of these early "stem-birds", such as Archaeopteryx, retained primitive characteristics such as teeth and long bony tails. DNA-based evidence finds that birds diversified dramatically around the time of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago, which killed off the pterosaurs and all the non-avian dinosaur lineages. But birds, especially those in the southern continents, survived this event and then migrated to other parts of the world while diversifying during periods of global cooling. This makes them the sole surviving dinosaurs, according to cladistics.

Some birds, especially corvids and parrots, are among the most intelligent animals; several bird species make and use tools, and many social species pass on knowledge across generations, which is considered a form of culture. Many species migrate annually over great distances. Birds are social, communicating with visual signals, calls, and bird songs, and participating in such social behaviours as cooperative breeding and hunting, flocking, and mobbing of predators. The vast majority of bird species are socially monogamous (referring to social living arrangement, distinct from genetic monogamy), usually for one breeding season at a time, sometimes for years, but rarely for life. Other species have breeding systems that are polygynous (arrangement of one male with many females) or, rarely, polyandrous (arrangement of 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. Some birds, such as hens, lay eggs even when not fertilised, which do not produce offspring.

Many species of birds are economically important as food for human consumption and raw material in manufacturing, with domesticated and undomesticated birds (poultry and game) 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.

Selected general bird topic

Berlin

The evolution of birds began in the Jurassic Period, with the earliest birds derived from a clade of theropod dinosaurs named Paraves. Birds are categorized as a biological class, Aves. For more than a century, the small theropod dinosaur Archaeopteryx lithographica from the Late Jurassic period was considered to have been the earliest bird. Modern phylogenies place birds in the dinosaur clade Theropoda. According to the current consensus, Aves and a sister group, the order Crocodilia, together are the sole living members of an unranked "reptile" clade, the Archosauria. Four distinct lineages of bird survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago, giving rise to ostriches and relatives (Paleognathae), ducks and relatives (Anseriformes), ground-living fowl (Galliformes), and "modern birds" (Neoaves).

Phylogenetically, Aves is usually defined as all descendants of the most recent common ancestor of a specific modern bird species (such as the house sparrow, Passer domesticus), and either Archaeopteryx, or some prehistoric species closer to Neornithes (to avoid the problems caused by the unclear relationships of Archaeopteryx to other theropods). If the latter classification is used then the larger group is termed Avialae. Currently, the relationship between dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx, and modern birds is still under debate. Read more...

Selected taxon

Cape petrel (Daption capense)

The family Procellariidae is a group of seabirds that comprises the fulmarine petrels, the gadfly petrels, the prions, and the shearwaters. This family is part of the bird order Procellariiformes (or tubenoses), which also includes the albatrosses, the storm petrels, and the diving petrels.

The procellariids are the most numerous family of tubenoses, and the most diverse. They range in size from the giant petrels, which are almost as large as the albatrosses, to the prions, which are as small as the larger storm petrels. They feed on fish, squid and crustacea, with many also taking fisheries discards and carrion. All species are accomplished long-distance foragers, and many undertake long trans-equatorial migrations. They are colonial breeders, exhibiting long-term mate fidelity and site philopatry. In all species, each pair lays a single egg per breeding season. Their incubation times and chick-rearing periods are exceptionally long compared to other birds.

Many procellariids have breeding populations of over several million pairs; others number fewer than 200 birds. Humans have traditionally exploited several species of fulmar and shearwater (known as muttonbirds) for food, fuel, and bait, a practice that continues in a controlled fashion today. Several species are threatened by introduced species attacking adults and chicks in breeding colonies and by long-line fisheries. Read more...

Topics

Anatomy:   Anatomy • Skeleton • Flight • Eggs • Feathers • Plumage

Evolution and extinction:   Evolution • Archaeopteryx • Hybridisation • Late Quaternary prehistoric birds • Fossils • Taxonomy • Extinction

Behaviour:   Singing • Intelligence • Migration • Reproduction • Nesting • Incubation • Brood parasites

Bird orders:   Struthioniformes • Tinamiformes • Anseriformes • Accipitriformes • Galliformes • Gaviiformes • Podicipediformes • Procellariiformes • Sphenisciformes • Pelecaniformes • Ciconiiformes • Phoenicopteriformes • Falconiformes • Gruiformes • Charadriiformes • Pteroclidiformes • Columbiformes • Psittaciformes • Cuculiformes • Strigiformes • Caprimulgiformes • Apodiformes • Coraciiformes • Piciformes • Trogoniformes • Coliiformes • Passeriformes

Bird lists:   Families and orders • Lists by region

Birds and humans:   Ringing • Ornithology • Bird collections • Birdwatching • Birdfeeding • Conservation • Aviculture

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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

The Gibson Plumage Index (GPI), sometimes known as the Gibson Code, is a system for describing the plumage of great albatrosses. It is named after, and originally devised in the late 1950s by, John Douglas Gibson and other members of the New South Wales Albatross Study Group. Gibson was an Australian amateur ornithologist who carried out fieldwork on albatrosses along the coast of New South Wales for thirty years. The index assigns separate numerical values (from 1 to 6 with increasing proportion of white) to the degrees of colouration on four parts of the body - the back, head, inner wing and tail - of albatrosses to indicate variations in age and between different breeding populations. For instance, a bird with a completely brown back would receive a score of 1 for the back, while a bird with an all-white back would be scored as a 6. The index was later expanded by Pierre Jouventin and colleagues to cover the more complex patterning of the Amsterdam albatross, adding belly and tibial feather colouration. This system for categorising the wide and complex variation in appearance of great albatrosses has been instrumental in the discovery of several genetically isolated populations and consequent description of new taxa, and has made field identification easier. Read more...

Selected species

Elfin-woods warbler
The elfin-woods warbler (Dendroica angelae, Spanish: reinita de bosque enano), is a bird endemic to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico where it is a local and uncommon species. It was discovered in 1968 and described in 1972. The species name, angelae, is a tribute to Angela Kepler, one of its discoverers. An insectivore, it feeds by gleaning small insects off leaves. Due to its small populations and restricted habitats, conservation efforts were begun in 1982 to protect this species. The species is not in immediate danger as the majority of its habitat is protected forest, but introduced species, such as rats and mongooses, habitat reduction, and natural disasters represent potential threats to the population.


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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