Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes a bird a bird

Blue macaw feathers.
What defines a bird? That's a really short question with a 
  1. Eggs - Birds lay eggs, but so do reptiles, amphibians, insects and platypuses. (Platypusi? Platypus?)
  2. Bipedalism - Birds walk on two feet. But so do we.
  3. Beak - All birds have beaks, also known as bills. But turtles have them too!
  4. Wings - They have wings too, but so do bats.
  5. Feathers - Now, besides birds, can you think of a single animal that has feathers? No.
Feathers are very complex. There are a ton of parts to each type of feather - And there are a couple feather types!

I'll start with the type most commonly found and prized feather, the primary flight feather (There are secondaries, too, but those are generally just shorter). There is the pennaceous region, the part where all the itty-bitty barbs stick together. The barbs are the main branches that stick out from the central shaft, or rachis. The calamus is the hollow base of the central shaft where the muscles attach. Finally, the plumulaceous region is that really fluffy part at near the bottom of the feather where the bars don't interlock like the rest of the feather.

I would talk about all of the feathers if I had time, but I don't, so let's move on. What's something that differentiates birds from other organisms? The syrinx. We have a larynx. Basically our vocal cords. Ours look like a long tube. But birds' vocal cords look like a tube that splits at the bottom, thus letting them generate two noises at once.

I know I didn't explain a lot about either of these subjects, so if you want more info, visit All About Bird Biology by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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