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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 passerines, sometimes known as perching birds. Birds have wings which are more or less developed depending on the 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 flightless 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–Palaeogene 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 annually migrate 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, though unfertilised eggs 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 prominently figure throughout human culture. About 120–130 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

A pet grey parrot displaying signs of extensive feather-plucking.

Abnormal behavior of birds in captivity can be defined in several ways. Statistically, 'abnormal' is when the occurrence, frequency or intensity of a behaviour varies statistically significantly, either more or less, from the normal value. This means that theoretically, almost any behaviour could become 'abnormal' in an individual. Less formally, 'abnormal' includes any activity judged to be outside the normal behaviour pattern for captive birds of that particular class or age. For example, running rather than flying may be a normal behaviour and regularly observed in one species, however, in another species it might be normal but becomes 'abnormal' if it reaches a high frequency, or in another species it is rarely observed and any incidence is considered 'abnormal'. This article does not include 'one-off' behaviours performed by individual birds that might be considered abnormal for that individual, unless these are performed repeatedly by other individuals in the species and are recognised as part of the ethogram of that species.

Most abnormal behaviours can be categorised collectively (e.g., eliminative, ingestive, stereotypies), however, many abnormal behaviours fall debatebly into several of these categories and categorisation is therefore not attempted in this article. Abnormal behaviours here are considered to be related to captive housing but may also be due to medical conditions. The article does not include behaviours in birds that are genetically modified to express abnormal behaviour. Read more...

Selected taxon

Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus

The bushtits or long-tailed tits, Aegithalidae, are a family of small, drab passerine birds with moderately long tails. The family contains 13 species in four genera, all but one of which are found in Eurasia. Bushtits are active birds, moving almost constantly while they forage for insects in shrubs and trees. During non-breeding season, birds live in flocks of up to 50 individuals. Several bushtit species display cooperative breeding behavior, also called helpers at the nest. 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

Quotes

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Resources

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

Male sage grouse have two gular sacs that they inflate to attract mates.

Gular skin (throat skin), in ornithology, is an area of featherless skin on birds that joins the lower mandible of the beak (or bill) to the bird's neck. Other vertebrate taxa may have a comparable anatomical structure that is referred to as either a gular sac, throat sac, vocal sac or gular fold. Read more...

Selected species

Male in summer plumage
The eastern or American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), also known as the wild canary, is a North American bird in the finch family. It is migratory, ranging from southern Canada to North Carolina during the breeding season, and from just south of the Canadian border to Mexico during the winter. The American goldfinch displays sexual dimorphism in its coloration; the male is a vibrant yellow in the summer and an olive color during the winter months, while the female is a dull yellow-brown shade which brightens only slightly during the summer. The male displays brightly colored plumage during the breeding season to attract a mate. The American goldfinch is granivorous and adapted for the consumption of seedheads, with a conical beak to remove the seeds and agile feet to grip the stems of seedheads while feeding. It is a social bird, and will gather in large flocks while feeding and migrating. Its breeding season is tied to the peak of food supply, beginning in late July, which is relatively late in the year for a finch. Human activity has generally benefited the American goldfinch.


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Taxonomy of Aves

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