Did you know…

The fastest animal

The fastest living creature on planet Earth is the Peregrine Falcon. It feeds mainly on birds which it attacks in the air by diving toward its prey with folded wings. When diving like this it can reach the amazing 100 metres per second, or 360 km (223 mi.) per hour!

Flying backwards

It is a well known fact that helicopters can fly backwards; the more observant nature lovers have seen some butterflies do it too but the majority of people would be surprised to hear that the smallest birds on the planet, the hummingbirds, also have this amazing skill. And no wonder – most species of the family feed on nectar which is accessible only if they can hover in place in order to insert their beak and their tongue deep into the flower of the plant. And those of them which feed on plants with deep funnel-like flowers need to be able to fly backwards too.

Deadly bright colours

It is a known fact that in many species of birds the males are brighter and more colourful that the females. A wide-spread explanation to this – that their plumage makes them attractive to the females, is actually not true. The males are more colourful so that the predators spot and catch them first. If a predator eats a male bird, the species looses one individual; when it eats a female, her eggs or young will die with her. For the predator it is all the same but for the species of the prey it makes a huge difference!

Chicken milk?

In Bulgarian the expression ‘chicken milk’ is used to describe something impossible. Pigeons, however, defy that notion; after their young hatch, they feed them with a milk-like yellow-whitish fluid. This is not proper ‘milk’ as it is not secreted from mammary glands (birds do not have them), but from the interior of their throat.


The sharpest vision

Birds are renowned for their exceptionally sharp vision. The Kestrel can spot a mouse nearly from one kilometer (0.62 mi.)! The ability is not some ‘binocular’ trick; it is due to the huge number of “pixels” which the bird’s eye distinguishes (there are up to 1 500 000 photosensitive cells in a bird’s eye; for comparison, in the human eye they are only 200 000). This explains the fact that the eyeball of the buzzard – a bird the size of a chicken, – is almost as big as the human’s.

Flying in complete darkness

A relative of the nightjars, the oilbird is the only member of its family to feed on fruit and not insects; it lives in the depths of caves in complete darkness. Much like bats, oilbirds fly unerringly around using ultrasound; due to its frequency (7 000 Hz) it can be perceived by the human ear too.

Birds that ‘hibernate’

Some nightjars, swifts, hummingbirds and other species can fall into a sort of ‘hibernation’ for varying lengths of time. An individual from a species of nightjar from California is known to have spent no less than 88 days hibernating! In this state the body of the birds falls into a torpor, the body temperature decreases from about 40° to 17°С (104-62°F), and its vital functions slow down substantially.

Missing a tongue…

Bird tongues come in all shapes and sizes. Well, not always. Ostriches don’t have a tongue. Perhaps that is why they are not famed as good singers…

Water supply

Sandgrouse lay their eggs and raise their young deep into the deserts, often tens of kilometers away from the nearest source of water. The young survive only because their parents fly repeatedly to the water sources – sometimes more than 30 kilometers (18 mi.) away; there they fluff their feathers, soak them with water and fly back to quench the thirst of their young. The youngsters need to bury their beaks into the plumage for a drink.

The chemical warfare of birds

Birds often fall victims to various parasites both on their feathers as well as on their bodies. Some species have found quite a resourceful solution to this irritating problem – they take an ‘ant-bath’. The bird lies on top of an anthill and start wallowing around. The angry ants spray it with formic acid which kills some of the parasites. Woodpeckers often combine this ‘cosmetic’ procedure with a good meal – they feed on the ants and their larvae.

So, penguins can fly, can they?

Everybody knows penguins are flightless. In fact this is not exactly true! You see, actually penguins are among the best flyers on the Earth but… underwater! When chasing fish they do not paddle only with their feet – they also flap their wings constantly – an underwater flight indeed!

Unexpected coexistence

Some species of birds coexist literally ‘side by side’ with their enemies. Sparrows living in the nests of storks and eagles are not an unusual sight. The Ruddy Shelduck often shares the same burrows with foxes; yet the carnivores do not touch their tender, tasty neighbours. In the tundra a similar phenomenon can be observed with Red-breasted Geese and Peregrine Falcons and Snowy Owls. This is explained by the fact that usually predators do not hunt in the vicinity of their nests and by chasing other carnivores away from their nests they protect their vulnerable neighbours too (e. g., the Peregrine Falcon and the Snowy Owl would never let an arctic fox near their nests). The neighbours pay them back by raising the alarm in case of danger and thus ‘guarding’ the nest of their protectors (the Ruddy Shelduck is known as the ‘guard dog’ among birds).

The most dangerous birds for humans

No, it is not eagles, falcons or other raptors as many would suspect! The most dangerous birds are the injured or distressed herons (the Grey and Purple Heron in particular); when caught by a human they strike with their spear-like beak straight in their captor’s eyes. Most species of owls are also very dangerous – their young leave their nests before they can fly and walk around, tempting predators and incautious humans to catch them; in case of an attack their parents fly at the ‘predator’ in complete silence and aim their fearsome talons at their adversary’s eyes. There are records of people losing an eye during attacks from owls and herons! Innocent looking swans can also be dangerous. If a human approaches their nest, they attack with strong blows with their wings – one blow could break a man’s arm.

Mother tongue, father tongue…

Woodpeckers hold the record for… the longest tongues in the world of birds. Their tongue is a part of a complex organ which encircles the skull; in some species it can protrude no less than 10 cm (4 in.) from the beak! When feeding, woodpeckers are able to drill holes in the trunks of trees; however, sometimes that is not enough. In order to reach the grubs, often hidden deep in their tunnels, the woodpeckers stick out their tongue into the hole and the juicy victim either sticks to the saliva, or is harpooned on the tongue’s hooked tip. May the feasts begin!

The longest-distance flyer

The Arctic Tern nests near the North Pole and spends the winter around the South Pole. So every year it covers about 36 000 km (22 400 mi.) just to go from its nesting grounds to its winter home and back.