Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Day 162 - A bit about the amazing anatomical adaptations of beautiful birds

Hey everyone - I thought I'd do something a bit different today and I've been learning a bit more about the Anatomy of Birds. Their anatomy and the different adaptations of birdsgives us clues about where they might live and what they might eat. so that's why I have chosen to this today. The way that birds' bodies have evolved has improved their ability to fly, eat and see etc.

So here's a few facts about some of their special features:

Woodpecker heads and feet are specially adapted to
allow it to hunt for bugs on trees.
  • The skull is incredibly light in relation to its body because there are no teeth or any jaw/jaw muscles. Chewing is done by the Gizzard (explained below). About 1% of a bird's total bodyweight is its skull. The Woodpecker has an even more special adaptation - they have shock-absorbent tissue between their bill and skull to absorb the impact of the drumming! (read more in my Woodpecker post)
  • All of their bones are hollow with supportive structures inside them. This makes them both light but still strong enough to be able to fly.
  • Originally, their wings were arms. They have evolved to have these wings but still have an elbow, wrist, fingers, humerus (funny bone), radius and ulna similar.
  • The front of the arm supports the bird's primary feathers and its upper arm supports its secondary feathers.
North York Moors Pheasant - its beak is useful
for cracking seeds and nuts and hunting insects in the ground
  • A birds' muscles have also evolved to enable it to fly. The most important muscle is between the upper arm and the chest.
  • There are two seperate pairs of muscles that are designed to help birds fly. The largest ones are called the Pectoralis Major provide the down-stroke whilst Pectoralis Minor support the Up-stroke which doesn't need as much power.
  • A birds' body is smooth and streamlined so that it is more aerodynamic. Its tail is made of feathers and helps it to steer while in flight and its legs are generally tucked up in its body wile flying rather than dangling down.
  • Their beaks vary significantly in different species to adapt to their diet. They are made of Keratin which is a similar material to our fingernails.
  • Here are a few examples of beaks and the diets they were designed for.
A friendly Toulouse Goose showing me its bill,
an adaptation to filter food from water
  1. A hard pointed beak (i.e a woodpecker) can be used for drilling holes in wood to find insects.
  2. Birds with short thin beaks (i.e a Swallow) usually eat insects.
  3. Thick and short or cone-shaped beak is good for cracking seeds open (e.g. finches and buntings.)
  4. A Crossbills upper and lower beak are (you guessed it) crossed. This makes it easier for them to eat Pine Cone seeds.
  5. Some birds such as Wrens have slender, curved bills so they can probe for insects.
  6. Straight, slender beaks are very common and versitile. Large birds lake Jays, Magpies and Rooks are usually omnivorous and smaller birds like, robins, thrushes and blackbirds will often eat insects.
  7. Wetland birds such as mallards use their flat beak to filter food from the water.
  8. Finally, raptors have sharp, hooked beaks for tearing meat.
Heron wading through a pool at Nosterfield 
  • Most birds have 4 toes, 3 that face frontwards and one that faces bakwards. Birds that have 2 facing frontwards and 2 backwards usually cling on to trees like a Woodpecker.
  • Birds that have very long legs, like a Crane or a Heron, tend to walk more than they fly. Birds that swim generally have webbed feet.
  • Raptors have strong talons, that are good for holding and tearing prey, but not very good for running.

I will probably do more on this subject at some point as I find it fascinating. In the meantime here are some links to some more information:

Earthlife - Avian Anatomy

All about birds - Anatomy

Hope you enjoyed,


1 comment:

  1. Really interesting post, Zach. Especially love the one about Woodpeckers, I love seeing them clinging to trees like that! - Tasha