15 things everyone should know about birds

June 26th, 2012 · by Garrison Frost

With more than 8,500 species of birds in the world, there is a lot to know about birds. But the typical person doesn’t need to go all ornithologist to get by. In fact, if you just know these 15 things about birds, you’ll probably be set for most situations. After you read the list, let us know if you’ve got any suggestions of your own. So, on with the list:

1. When you hear an eagle or a vulture in the movies, you’re almost always actually hearing the sound of a Red-tail Hawk. Moviemakers like to use this call because it’s way cooler than the actual call of those other birds. Listen to the hawk in the video below. Sound familiar?

2. We don’t have Blue Jays in California. We have Scrub Jays (photo below by Peter LaTourrette).

3. It’s better to trim your trees in the fall, rather than the spring, to avoid disturbing nests.

4. The fastest animal ever recorded in the wild is a bird, the Peregrine Falcon, which can reach speeds of up to 240 miles per hour while diving out of the sky. Top that, cheetah.

5. That said, a coyote is actually about twice as fast as a Road Runner. So, there is hope for Wile E.

6. Biologically speaking, birds are likely all we have left of the dinosaurs (The Rodan video below has zero relevance to this post, but we couldn’t help ourselves).

7. Birds don’t necessarily sing because they’re happy. Normally, they just do it to attract mates and defend their territory. Incidentally, birds have flow-through lungs (as opposed to an air sac like our lungs), which is why they can sing almost continuously without having to stop and take a deep breath.

8. Crows and Ravens are some of the smartest birds out there. They’ve been known to use tools, recognize human faces, pass information among each other, and perform complex tasks in coordination.

9. Ducks are divided into two groups: dabbling and diving. Dabbling ducks stick to the shallows and feed along the surface of the water by dipping their head under. Diving ducks submerge their whole body to reach food further down. The Mallard (below, photo by Alexandra MacKenzie) is a dabbler.

10. What used to be called birdwatching is now commonly called birding. If you call a birder a birdwatcher, be prepared to be corrected.

11. If you find a baby bird outside its nest, in most cases it’s OK to just leave it. Its mother is probably nearby and it doesn’t need “rescuing.”

12. There are baby pigeons. We just don’t see them, and they grow to full size pretty fast.

13. Among animals, birds are far more monogamous as a rule than mammals.

14. Some birds make remarkable migratory journeys each year of ten thousand miles or more. Others don’t migrate at all.

15. Owls can’t turn their heads all the way around, but some can turn 270 degrees or further in either direction. Humans max out at about 160 degrees, so don’t try to emulate the owls at home.

(photo at top of White-crowned Sparrow by USFWS)

Categories: Bird videos · Birding · Nature education and activities · Video · Wildlife photos and video

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Maggie

    #2 – And Steller’s Jays! (and Pinyon Jays, and even some Gray Jays). Georg Steller first described the Steller’s Jay, and knew it was a jay because of its resemblance to the Blue Jay. The Steller’s Jay is the jay most commonly confused with the Blue Jay, for good reason – it is the only other member of the same genus.

    It used to bug me when people called them blue jays, but you know – they are right! They are blue, and they are jays, so they *are* blue jays… just not Blue Jays :)

  • ju

    Addendum to #15: Owls can turn their heads so far because their eyes can’t move in their sockets, they are locked into place. Being able to turn their heads almost all the way around compensates for that.

    Also, one of the coolest things I have learned about birds has to do with choosing mates. In dimorphic species of birds, where the males are brighter and more beautiful than females, it is the males job to impress the females, and the females are very picky. The female raises the young more or less on her own. But, in species where males and females look the same, both partners are equally choosy about mates and both share equal responsibility in rearing young.

  • Barbara King

    I use a cat fence. It keeps my cats in my yard and it keeps other cats out. See it here: These guys provide wonderful customer support.

  • Pam Davis

    #12 Also applies to Crows
    #16 There is NO such thing as a SEA gull.
    I worked at Sacramento Wildlife Care Assoc. feeding baby birds. Apparently some biologists think we are interfering with “survival of the species”. I have always had cats and have always allowed them to free-roam. It’s called survival of the species. I haven’t noticed a decline in birds in my yard or my neighborhood. But I do volunteer to feed orphaned or injured baby birds!

  • ron king

    I work on free roaming cat issues. get zero help- as a rule from local birders. In Lake Jackson Texas which is bird central-it is legal to let your cat run loose. Damned the science. if are letting your cat roam free you are sharing in the killing of nestlings and fledglings. And you are condoning trespass. Birders have a greater responsibility than ordinary folks GO to cat indoors.Get involved.

  • ron king

    I work on free roaming cat issues. get zero help- as a rule from local birders. In Lake Jackson Texas whic is bird central-it is legal to let your cat run loose. Damned the science. i fare lettign your cat run loose you are sharing in the killing of nestlings and fledglings. Birders have a greater responsibility than ordinary fokls GO to cat indoors.Get involved.