Birds are everywhere.
They have adapted to life in the wilderness. They live in forests and jungles. They live in deserts and high mountains. They also live in rivers and far out at sea. Some even live in caves and underground burrows. You see them in parks and gardens and nesting on buildings in the heart of the biggest cities.
The only place on Earth that birds haven’t managed to colonize is the deepest ocean.
But let’s face it, hardly anything has.
Well, apart from some scary, bug-eyed, gloopy things that look more like they’ve splashed out of the pages of a science fiction comic than anything else!
So let’s take a light-hearted look at some fascinating and fun facts about birds.
All birds have feathers and wings and a ‘bill’ or ‘beak.’ Those are the basic things that define what a bird is.
But the variations on that theme are mind-boggling. Let’s take a look at my list of the top ten fun and interesting facts about birds.
Those of you of a certain age or younger folk who watch the re-runs on a cartoon channel, will know about the classic comedy capers revolving around the efforts of Wile E. Coyote to capture the elusive Roadrunner.
What you may not know, is that the roadrunner is a real bird! But before we look at the astonishing truth about this real life, crazy-bird, let’s just take a quick look at the cartoon version.
Here he is in a typical comedy caper.
Roadrunners are real birds that live in the deserts of the American southwest.
Like all birds, they have wings but they very rarely fly. When they do, they are not very good at it!
But… they sure can run.
For a relatively small bird, they can zip along through the desert at a cool 20 miles per hour. That’s as fast as any Olympic sprinter.
If you’re from the southwest, you might have seen a roadrunner whizzing along the road, although in real life they rarely run in a straight line. But, because they are so quick, they frequently catch rattlesnakes. When they do, they swallow them whole. Yum.
Toucans are top heavy!
There is no bird known that has a bigger bill in relation to the size of its body than the Toucan.
You might wonder how it can even lift this extraordinary appendage. Interestingly, the bill is not solid. It is formed of a lattice-work of hollow sections—a little like the inside of a sponge. This means that it can be big and very robust without being heavy.
Even so, when it comes time to rest, the only way a Toucan can get some sleep is to twist its head all the way round and rest its bill out along its back.
Parrots are well known as mimics of human speech. But did you know that Toucans, if kept in captivity, can also pick up quite a wide vocabulary?
As with parrots, this comes from them being social birds that live in dense jungles. Vocal communication between individuals in the flock is very important for recognition and sharing information about where to find food or warnings that a predator is nearby.
Each Toucan recognizes its own parents and group by their specific calls.
Toucans don’t make good pets. They require very specialist care and lots of space to live happily in captivity.
But talking of parrots…
From the famous literary pirate Long John Silver’s parrot squawking ‘Pieces of eight, pieces of eight’ to the super brainy parrot, Alex, that the scientist Irene Pepperberg taught to identify fifty different objects and ask for them in English whenever he wanted one, parrots are well known for their intelligence and chatty nature!
But did you know that parrots can also learn to count, recognize and name different colors and shapes and even be trained to perform simple household chores?
Scientists such as Dr. Pepperberg now believe that these parrots don’t just mimic human speech but can learn to use it with the same understanding as a two-year-old child.
Not everyone agrees with her interpretation but it is a fascinating and fun idea.
It is certainly food for thought. After all, why should we imagine that we are the only animals that have evolved intelligence? Quite clearly lots of other animals have. Not the sort that could get them a degree from Harvard, of course, but maybe more than we might have realized.
Dr. Pepperberg has written a super book all about her experiences with Alex. My copy is quite dog-eared now, and the first time I opened the covers I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. It’s fascinating, funny, and will also make you cry.
Here’s a cool video of her and Alex doing their thing.
Dr. Pepperberg’s talking parrot, Alex, is probably one of the most famous parrots of all time.
After he died, at the age of thirty-one, Dr. Pepperberg wrote in the book I mentioned earlier, about her experiences with him, that the last words they shared together were:
“You be good. I love you,” Alex said.
“I love you too.”
“You’ll be in tomorrow?”
“Yes, I’ll be in tomorrow.”
Not all these intense relationships develop only between owners and their captive birds.
There is one example of the extraordinary bonds that can be formed between humans and wild birds, too.
Check out this astonishing true story of the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill…
What do you mean, you’ve never heard of Tinamous?
Don’t worry, not many people have!
So far the birds we’ve looked at have all been interesting and fun because of how well they have adapted but these next guys are more like the clowns at the circus than the amazing acrobats or the mystifying magic act.
The Tinamous are a very timid creature. It is rarely seen as it is also very well camouflaged. They tend to creep about at ground level keeping out of everyone else’s way. But…
… if one is disturbed, boy is it disturbed.
Once they know they have been spotted, they tend to panic. They shoot upwards in a manic, high-speed flight. And they can go really fast. Unfortunately, they tend not to look where they are going.
Many Tinamous, once panicked, fly straight into the nearest tree and… bam! kill themselves outright.
While they can fly fast, they can’t fly for long. They’re related to Ostriches, which are completely flightless.
When they tire, they drop back to the ground and carry on running. Unfortunately, they sometimes land on water and… well, you guessed it, they can’t swim.
Poor Tinamous. Still, they are a family of birds that evolved about 100, 000 years ago and they’re still around, so I guess they must be doing something right!
Okay, of course all birds are related on the evolutionary tree of life, but ostriches and chickens are only very distant cousins.
Maybe they are more closely related to Big Bird from Sesame Street. They are certainly big.
Ostriches tend to look down on humans—from a height of about nine feet!
They can run up to 60 miles per hour.
Not only are they tall and fast but they are also pretty darned heavy, weighing in at a hefty 350 pounds.
The shell of an ostrich egg is about six times thicker than a chicken egg and an adult human could stand on one without it cracking.
So they are big and fast and heavy.
Buy they’re not so smart.
In fact, an ostrich’s brain is even smaller than its eye.
Oh. and just in case you’re wondering…
… no, they don’t really stick their heads in the sand!
Well, if you thought the Ostrich was big, how about the Madagascan Elephant Bird?
Somewhat resembling an ostrich in body shape, this feathered giant really was as big as an elephant, growing up to eleven and a half feet tall.
They must have made quite a sight, stalking on those huge legs through the dense Madagascan Jungle.
Despite their great size and fearsome appearance, they were actually quite harmless vegetarians, grazing on leaves and herbs.
Unfortunately, these astonishing beasts were hunted to extinction by the end of the sixteenth century.
So, all we have left to show, are some bones. By they are mighty impressive bones at that!
Don’t you think they look like dinosaurs?
So let’s go from the very big to the very small.
The bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird that has ever existed.
It has not been hunted to extinction (not much meat on it I guess).
The bee hummingbird hails from the island of Cuba.
It is really tiny and while not quite as small as a bee, has an overall length from the tip of the bill to the tip of the tail of a minuscule 2 inches – that’s about 5 centimeters!
This little fella doesn’t weigh much as you can imagine. In fact, it weighs about the same as two dimes held in the palm of your hand. That’s about 0.07 ounces or just 2 grams.
But it does everything that its larger cousins do well, the thing that hummingbirds are most famous for – it flaps its little wings at about eighty beats per second. That’s right, per second.
It can hover and switch up, down, left and right – even fly backwards – with mathematical precision.
Quite the little guy, don’t you think?
The Wandering Albatross is the largest living flying bird.
An adult male weighs about 25 pounds—that’s the size of a Thanksgiving turkey.
It has a wingspan of twelve feet. So an adult human could lie down under the outstretched wing and be completely covered.
Individual birds are also very long lived. The typical age for an albatross to reach is about seventy or more years.
They fly over distances of up to six hundred miles in one day.
When the young albatross leaves the nest for the first time, it will spend at least seven years flying out at sea before returning to land for the first time. During that maiden flight, a typical albatross will cover something close to one and a half million miles.
In its lifetime, an albatross will normally cover fifteen million miles—the equivalent of flying to the moon and back eighteen times!
In recent years, their numbers have been rapidly declining, putting them on the Red List for conservation status. Their decline is due to overfishing the oceans by humans.
Will anything survive our greed?
Not all birds can be readily seen during the day.
Of the night birds, owls are probably the most well-known.
And of the owls, the Eurasian Eagle Owl is undoubtedly the biggest and most impressive.
They can have a wingspan of up to five and a half feet and weigh in at a cool seven pounds. Despite this great size, however, they can fly silently, gliding on their outstretched wings.
In most species, the male is usually bigger than the female but not so with the Eurasian Eagle Owl. The female is always bigger – sometimes as much as three times bigger – than the male.
One of the owl’s distinctive features is the presence of little ‘horns’ or ‘ears’ sticking up from the top of its head. These are actually neither ears nor horns! They are simply tufts of feathers and while there are several theories about why they are there – from an aid to camouflage to an attempt to look more frightening to aggressors – nobody really knows what they are for!
Now watch this AWESOME video of an Eagle Owl flying…
So here we are near the end of our fascinating and fun facts about birds.
Most people think of birds as living in trees or at least making their homes and nests in them.
But we’ve already seen that they also live out at sea and in the desert where there are very few trees of any kind.
The Puffin lives on remote northern islands where there are no trees at all.
They make their homes and nests in deep underground burrows—just the same as rabbits!
And just like rabbits, they tend to make these burrows together in huge colonies.
They are often called ‘clowns of the sea’ but that’s not because they are especially funny in the way they behave but because of their brightly colored bills, which have reminded people of clown make-up.
Now watch this cute video of Puffins popping in and out of their burrows.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading these top ten fun and interesting facts about birds as much as I have writing about them!
I’ve done some more research for you and found some cool sites and other resources you can check out if you want to find out more about the fascinating world of birds – they are amazing aren’t they?
You can find these resources below. Just click through to whatever interests you most.
Oh, and before you go, just fly up to the poll above and cast your vote!