what is a bird

Why are their feathers different colours?

Display: Peacocks with large colourful fans of eyes that show bold colour used for courtship. Birds also use wing flashes, crests etc. to enhance attraction.

Camouflage: To decide on camouflage you have to know a birds habitat and habits etc. It may be bright red, but it lives in the canopy of a forest that is covered with red flowers and the bird can blend in easily. In some species of bird the female is duller so she is camouflaged when nesting.

Warning: Usually a territorial display. Wing and tail flagging to exaggerate bars and spots of colour, also puffing out the feathers to increase size of the bird.

Habitat: The varying habitat and habits of the bird generally decides its size, colour, beak shape, legs and claws. Desert, Meadow, Forest , Jungle, Swamp, Saltwater, Freshwater and Snow with climatic variations of temperature, rainfall etc. should all be taken into consideration when deciding why birds vary in shape and size from a Wren to an Ostrich.

ExampleSnowy Owl:- dense feathers and feathered feet for warmth in Arctic habitat. Male white and female white with a percentage of black in the feathers for camouflage [i.e. to break up the body shape] whilst nesting. Large claws designed for killing prey e.g. Lemmings. Do not use beak to kill as this is relatively weak and the prey is swallowed whole. Bones, fur and feather are later regurgitated as a pellet.

BEAK

Feeding – Defence – Display

FeedingEagle: has a powerful beak for ripping fur/feather and meat from prey. Flamingo: A curved beak with serrated edges to help filter invertebrates from sediment in the river etc.

Defence: Many birds will use their beaks in defence from holding to ripping – from a Blackbird to Parrots and Birds of Prey.

Display: Toucans have very large (in proportion to their body) colourful beaks which are used for display to a mate or in defence of its territory.

FEET – LEGS -CLAWS

Perching – Walking – Swimming – Killing – Feeding

PerchingSparrow: has three toes pointing forward and one backwards to allow gripping of a branch. Some have two forward and two back (Zygodactyl) for specific climbing and grabbing.

WalkingCrane: long legs for walking in water, tall grass etc. Ostrich: long powerful legs for running and kicking (unable to fly).

SwimmingDuck: has webbed feet to enhance propulsion through the water.

KillingOwl: powerful feet with large claws for killing prey.

FeedingParrot: able to grasp food in feet to take to the beak or to hold whilst biting pieces away. Flamingo: use their feet for stirring up the river bed to expose food

FEEDING

Flesh/Invertebrates – Fruit/Vegetable matter – Seed – Nectar

Flesh: Birds of Prey – eagles, falcons etc. hunt and kill prey, as do Penguins etc. hunting fish. Vultures and many other species eat carrion (dead animals). Insect eating birds e.g. Bee-eaters only eat insects.

Fruit: Toucans, hornbills, touracos etc. eat fruit and occasional insects. Known as Softbills.

Seed: Finches, parrots, etc. can take a seed and manipulate in the beak to crack the husk, discard and eat the kernel. Known as hardbills. Pheasants etc. cannot crack the husk, and have to swallow the seed whole where it is broken down in the gizzard.

Nectar: Hummingbirds, Lorys and Lorikeets take the nectar from flowers.

NESTING

Ground – Shrubs/Bushes – Trees – Holes in trees/rocks – Underground

Anything from a basic scrape to an elaborate Weaver’s pendulum nest.

Ground: Ostrich, Cassowary etc. make a shallow scrape where they lay their eggs like many other species such as plovers, pheasants and even waterfowl, although they tend to use more nesting material including down feathers from their breasts. Many Seabirds take advantage of cliff ledges where they assemble in large nesting colonies.

Shrubs: 2 – 10 feet off the ground usually nests of light twigs, moss, lichen, hair etc. Usually needing more camouflage because of access from predators.

Trees: Basic twigs of a pigeon nest to the vast platforms of Osprey or Hammerkop.

Holes: Owls, woodpeckers, hornbills etc. either take advantage of existing holes or excavate their own site.

Underground: Burrowing Owls, puffins etc. usually take advantage of existing holes e.g. rabbit burrow.

EGGS

Size – Shape – Colour – Number – Incubation

Size: Usually relative to the size of the bird.

Shape: There is quite a variation from round to conical. For example the Guilliemot, a cliff nesting seabird, lays a conical egg. If an egg is dislodged it rolls in a circle to give more chance of the egg staying on the narrow ledge.

Colour: usually a form of camouflage when the bird leaves the nest. Some birds lay white eggs and these are normally hole nesting species where camouflage is not necessary.

Number: Usually the smaller the bird the more eggs are laid. Ostrich, Rheas etc. where only the male sits on the eggs, but 3-4 females will lay in the same nest, where many eggs will be found. A Blue-Tit on its own will lay 12-15 eggs, whereas a penguin will lay 1 or 2 eggs.

Incubation: The time it takes from sitting the egg until it hatches can vary from 12 – 65 days depending on the species. Some species sit from the first egg and some from the last egg. This can mean chicks hatching several days apart or all on the same day.

CHICKS

Bald/Blind – Walk/Swim

Bald/Blind: For example the Blackbird that hatches after two weeks incubation and is blind and covered in a light down feather. It cannot survive on its own; unable to feed or keep warm. The chick will fledge after two weeks, able to walk and fly but still unable to feed itself for a further two weeks.

Walk/Swim: For example Pheasants or waterfowl chicks hatch after four weeks,eyes open, covered in a thick down and are able to walk and waterfowl are able to swim. They are coaxed by the adult to feed themselves, but still need brooding to keep them warm.

Number/Clutches – Feeding – Parental care

Number/Clutches: Generally the higher number of eggs per clutch and the number of clutches per year dictates a high mortality in rearing or predation. A Blue-Tit could lay two clutches of 12 eggs each per year giving a potential 24 chicks, but many would be taken by predators.
A King Penguin lays one egg and potentially rears one chick per year and may lay only one egg every two years.

Feeding: Already mentioned in the first two headings where some chicks need attention from both parents constantly throughout the day. Where other chicks only need adult encouragement to feed themselves and usually only one parent in attendance.

Parental Care: The Incubator Bird that lays one egg in a mound of soil that acts like an incubator, regularly checked by the adult. When the chick hatches it digs its way out and runs off into the forest to fend for itself.

Ground Hornbills look after the chicks in a family group being fed by the parents and previous years siblings. They will often stay in the group for about four years.

 

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