Believe It or Not!
Centuries ago, people came up with amazing ideas to explain the seasonal appearance and disappearance of birds. An Englishman wrote in 1703 that birds hibernated on the moon! (He also was convinced that it took them 60 days to fly there.) The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed that birds changed their identity with another species. So, when summer arrived, the European robin turned into a European redstart. Some thought that birds huddled together at the bottoms of ponds and rivers all winter.
Evolution of Birds
Many scientists agree that birds descended from dinosaurs. One famous fossil is that of a bird that lived about 150 million years ago. This thickly-feathered, crow-sized creature with three claws on each wing tip and a long, bony tail was discovered embedded in a limestone quarry in Germany in 1861. Scientists named it Archaeopteryx, meaning ancient wing.
Understand Survival Needs and Challenges
Ornithology is the scientific study of birds. Ornithologists study every detail of birds' lives, including how they find food or digest it, how they evolve, nesting habits, courtship rituals, and bird parasites. Is there an ornithologist in your community who could talk to your class about his or her profession? In this section, students will become budding ornithologists as they get to know more about birds and their fascinating lives. One of the things that ornithologists work to understand are the many survival challenges that birds face. This section of the kit will examine some of those needs and challenges.
Ornithology is one of the few sciences where non-professionals like you and I can contribute significant and helpful data. One way to do this is by participating in annual bird counts. The results help scientists track changes in species populations and movements. Check with your local naturalists’ group to find out about bird counts in your area.
The Perils of Peewees and Plovers
Considering the many perils a bird faces in its short life, it's a wonder that any survive. Even before baby robins, or peewees, crack their way out, the eggs could be devoured by skunks, raccoons, or other birds. If they hatch, the helpless youngsters are still in danger. Sometimes calamity strikes the parent bird while it's off the nest hunting for food. Then, the young starve to death. If a young bird survives until it’s time to leave home, it could sail out of the nest straight into the jaws of a cat. A bird's life abounds with perils. Some major threats include:
- Wild predators.
- Pesticides and other toxins.
- Weather extremes such as cold, drought, or rain.
- Cats, which are estimated to kill millions of songbirds each year in North America.
- Brightly lit towers and tall buildings (many millions of migrating songbirds crash into them each year).
- Diseases such as West Nile virus.
- Habitat disturbance and loss. This is a bird's worst nightmare, especially for migrators who face it in their summer and winter homes, and at their rest and refuelling stops along the way.
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