Professional small group bird holidays make it easy for even novice bird watchers to enjoy a highly enriching wildlife experience. Under the guidance of a knowledgeable tour leader, dedicated bird holidays take participants to destinations that encompass a diverse range of habitats, allowing them access to a variety of avian species. |
While most of the skills are learnt out in the field, for beginners heading out on bird holidays, knowing some basic anatomy will help greatly when trying to make identifications.
Almost every aspect of avian evolution has occurred in order to streamline and enhance their ability to fly and, while their most obvious assets are their wings, far more goes into that seemingly effortless ability to take to the skies
Skeleton and Organs
Birds need to be as light as possible to achieve flight, so their bones are hollow. To counteract this, the skeleton is formed in a kind of honeycomb structure, which provides great strength. Proportionately, the wings are much heavier and larger than their bodies.
Birds have no teeth and also fewer internal organs than other animals in order to remain lightweight, breaking down and digesting their food with a 'gizzard' (part of their stomach).
Brains and Eyes
Despite having a small cerebral cortex, avian's brains are much larger than those of their closest relatives in the natural world (amphibians and reptiles) and are very dense with neurons. They are capable of complex behaviours, including navigating long distances and mimicry, and they have excellent memory skills.
Avian species have acute vision (able to discern fine details from a great distance), excellent coordination and keen hearing – which is particularly evolved in those that hunt at night.
Due to their feathers, they are able to maintain a high body temperature (around 40° Celsius), which enables their muscles to work harder and faster. The lungs are equipped with flexible air sacs that deflect internal body heat and encourage rapid regeneration of energy.
Wings and Feathers
As with everything in nature, feathers have a very defined purpose and are not just there for aesthetics. Each one is made up of the protein keratin (just like our hair and nails), which makes them extremely strong but also incredibly light. The complex structure of every feather (each of which comprises 'barbs', similar to tree branches) enables them to get beneath air currents and lift, while at the same time pushing air back down on the wing at a precise pressure – creating the ability to support flight (or hovering) when the wings are flapped. Some species are also able to use air currents to glide.
Birds have large pectoral muscles in order to support their wings and create the power needed to fly; for some species, the wingspan far exceeds the size of their body. Not all birds can fly but, for those that can, it is the aerodynamic shape of their wings and the dispersion of their feathers that enables it.
The Fascinating Life of Birds
Birding is one of the most popular branches of wildlife watching. Understanding a few basics about avian physiology can enable a greater insight and a more fulfilling experience for those planning to join one of the professional bird holidays abroad.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bird watching. As a passionate lover of birds, Marissa chooses the expert-led bird holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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