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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the evolutionary history of birds
  • Describe the derived characteristics in birds that facilitate flight

The most obvious characteristic that sets birds apart from other modern vertebrates is the presence of feathers, which are modified scales. While vertebrates like bats fly without feathers, birds rely on feathers and wings, along with other modifications of body structure and physiology, for flight.

Characteristics of birds

Birds are endothermic, and because they fly, they require large amounts of energy, necessitating a high metabolic rate. Like mammals, which are also endothermic, birds have an insulating covering that keeps heat in the body: feathers. Specialized feathers called down feathers are especially insulating, trapping air in spaces between each feather to decrease the rate of heat loss. Certain parts of a bird’s body are covered in down feathers, and the base of other feathers have a downy portion, whereas newly hatched birds are covered in down.

Feathers not only act as insulation but also allow for flight, enabling the lift and thrust necessary to become airborne. The feathers on a wing are flexible, so the collective feathers move and separate as air moves through them, reducing the drag on the wing. Flight feathers are asymmetrical, which affects airflow over them and provides some of the lifting and thrusting force required for flight ( [link] ). Two types of flight feathers are found on the wings, primary feathers and secondary feathers. Primary feathers are located at the tip of the wing and provide thrust. Secondary feathers are located closer to the body, attach to the forearm portion of the wing and provide lift. Contour feathers are the feathers found on the body, and they help reduce drag produced by wind resistance during flight. They create a smooth, aerodynamic surface so that air moves smoothly over the bird’s body, allowing for efficient flight.

The illustration shows a bird’s wing, which has two layers of flight feathers, the long primary feathers and the shorter secondary feathers, which overlay the primary feathers.
Primary feathers are located at the wing tip and provide thrust; secondary feathers are located close to the body and provide lift.

Flapping of the entire wing occurs primarily through the actions of the chest muscles, the pectoralis and the supracoracoideus. These muscles are highly developed in birds and account for a higher percentage of body mass than in most mammals. These attach to a blade-shaped keel, like that of a boat, located on the sternum. The sternum of birds is larger than that of other vertebrates, which accommodates the large muscles required to generate enough upward force to generate lift with the flapping of the wings. Another skeletal modification found in most birds is the fusion of the two clavicles (collarbones), forming the furcula    or wishbone. The furcula is flexible enough to bend and provide support to the shoulder girdle during flapping.

An important requirement of flight is a low body weight. As body weight increases, the muscle output required for flying increases. The largest living bird is the ostrich, and while it is much smaller than the largest mammals, it is flightless. For birds that do fly, reduction in body weight makes flight easier. Several modifications are found in birds to reduce body weight, including pneumatization of bones. Pneumatic bones are bones that are hollow, rather than filled with tissue ( [link] ). They contain air spaces that are sometimes connected to air sacs, and they have struts of bone to provide structural reinforcement. Pneumatic bones are not found in all birds, and they are more extensive in large birds than in small birds. Not all bones of the skeleton are pneumatic, although the skulls of almost all birds are.

Questions & Answers

there are 3 trimester in human pregnancy
ROHIN Reply
I don't know answer of this question can u help me
ROHIN
yes
Bisa
what is a cell
Fatima Reply
what is genetic
Janet Reply
I join
Janet
what are the branchas of biology
Prisca Reply
zoology, ecology
Millicent
biochemistry,cytology,herpetology...etc
R0se
genetics, microbiology,botany and embryology
Muhammad
what is a cell
Kulunbawi Reply
cell is smallest unit of life. cells are often cell the building blocks of life...
Muhammad
the first twenty element
Orapinega Reply
what are the characteristics of living things?
R0se
growth,respiration,nutrition,sensitivity, movement,irritability, excretion,death.
Obinna
What is the difference between adaptation and competition in animals
Adeyemi Reply
What is biology
Adeyemi
it is a natural science stadey about living things
Zamiil
Biology is the bronch of science which deals with the study of life is called biology
Aziz
what is the x in 300 stands for?
Ogbudu Reply
the properties of life
Clarinda Reply
response to the environment, reproduction, homeostasis, growth,energy processing etc.....
Pushpam
hello.
Daniela
hi
MacPeter
Good
Thomas
what is reproduction
Tims
Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life,each individual organism exist as a result of re production.....or else Multiplying...
R0se
a complete virus particle known as
Darlington Reply
These are formed from identical protein subunitscalled capsomeres.
Pushpam
fabace family plant name
Pushpam Reply
in eukaryotes ...protein channel name which transport protein ...
Pushpam Reply
in bacteria ...chromosomal dna duplicate structure called
Pushpam
what is a prokaryotic cell and a eukaryotic cell
Matilda Reply
There are two types of cells. Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic cells. Prokaryotic cells don't have a nucleus or membrane enclosed organelles (little organs within that cell). They do however carry genetic material but it's not maintained in the nucleus. Prokaryotic cells are also one celled.
juanita
Prokaryotic cells are one celled (single celled).
juanita
Prokaryotic cells are Bacteria and Archea
juanita
Prokaryotic cells are smaller than Eukaryotic cells.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells are more complex. They are much bigger than Prokaryotic cells.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells have a nucleus and membrane bound organelles.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells are animals cells which also includes us.
juanita
Eukaryotic cells are also multicellular.
juanita
nice explaination
Amna
eukaryotic cells are individual cells .. but eukaryotes are multicellular organisms which consist of many different types of eukaryotic cells
Will
also eukaryotic cells have mitochondria. prokaryotic cells do not
Will
Good
John
in prokaryotes only ribosomes are present... in eukaryotes mitochondria ...glogi bodies ..epidermis .....prokaryotes one envelop but eukaryotes compartment envelop....envelop mean membrane bound organelles......
Pushpam
prokaryotic cell are cells dat have no true nuclei i.e no cell membrane while eukaryotic cell are cell dat have true nuclei i.e have cell membrane
Divine
grt
Thomas
we have 46 pair of somatic cell and 23 pair of chromosomes in our body, pls can someone explain it to me. pls
Matilda Reply
we have 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosome
Amna
thanks
Matilda
we have 23 pairs of chromosomes,22 pairs of somatic and one pair of sex chromosomes
Amna
23 chromosomes from dad & 23 chromosomes from mom 23 +23=46 total chromosomes
juanita
X & Y chromosomes are called sex cells, the very presence of a Y chromosome means the person is Male.
juanita
XX Female XY Male
juanita
If a Karyotype has more than 46 Chromosomes then nondisjunction occured. For example, having an extra chromosome 21 will cause Down Syndrome.
juanita
in mammal state the different vertebrae and their location in the body
Igbinigie Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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