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Getting to know birds

The most distinct feature of birds is that they have feathers. Birds can best be describes as feathered animals with two legs. Their front limbs are modified into wings. Birds are warm-blooded animals.

There are over 9,200 species of birds known from around the world and they can be found just about everywhere. Birds have evolved from reptiles and have been on this Earth for about 140 Million years. It is hardly surprising therefore, that it has evolved to a degree where it has adapted to its role in life, with visible changes in its form and structure. Depending upon whether it is a high flier, a water bird, or a bird in the garden, birds have varied wing shapes, flight and navigation skills. Birds have perfected the art of camouflage.

The vast variety of birds and their well developed skills of feeding, nesting, travelling and sometimes even cheating is interesting to study. Not to mention their beautiful colours and melodious calls! Above all, even the commonest of birds still fascinate us with their perseverance.

The sight of a soaring bird can simply lift our sprits high!

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An extract from "THE COMMON BIRDS OF BOMBAY" by EHA (E H Aitken)

Birds constitute the second class of the vertebrate animals, being higher than the reptiles in that their blood is warm, and lower than the beasts in that they do not suckle their young but lay eggs. There are other points in which they differ from both. They have no lips nor teeth, their mouths being encased in horn and consolidated into a beak. That they are clothed with feathers we all know, but few have any idea of the properties of that wonderful garment. The long, stiff feathers of the wing, called " quills," are little oars, or fans, for beating the air, and those of the tail form an expanding and collapsing rudder; but the body clothing is of softer plumes, so constructed and so arranged as to combine all the diverse qualities of all the fabrics that man has ever woven for his own comfort or adornment. Each feather is at its point a scale, or leaf, smooth, soft, porous and yet waterproof: but at the base it is disheveled and downy. Each keeps its place and overlaps the next so as to form a smooth and even surface and an unbroken pattern; but the down is underneath. When the bird goes to bed it shakes up its plumage and is wrapped in an eiderdown quilt; but startle it and in an instant every feather is pressed firmly down and the compact little body is prepared to cleave the air as a scale-clothed fish cleaves the water.

But the most vital difference between birds and all other vertebrate animals lies in the fact that their forelimbs are converted into organs of flight. This handicaps them in many ways, as any one may see for himself by watching a squirrel and a sparrow dealing with a crust of bread: but it admits them to a realm which is closed against four footed creatures. The sky is their territory and the trees are their home. They breathe pure air, they look round them on fields and hills and sky, and they see the beasts and man himself crawling on the ground beneath them. Conditions such as these modify the characters of nations and it would be foolish to suppose that they are without effect on birds. It is from these surely that they draw that joy of life, which is their richest inheritance, which opens the eye to beauty and the ear to music, which expresses itself in all grace of form and movement, and inclines spontaneously to love. And so, though beasts rank above them anatomically and physiologically, birds have in many respects a higher nature. Their wits are quicker, their thoughts sweeter, their tastes finer and their passions and appetites less gross. With respect to manners and morals they stand on a higher plane altogether. The institution of the family, which is the most sacred thing in our social system, is almost unknown among beasts, but it exists among birds in its purest form. The great majority of them indeed are monogamous during the nesting season, and many pair for life and become devotedly attached to each other. Brides are won by courtship.

In their personal habits birds are particularly tidy and clean. Much of their time is spent in the duties, or pleasures, of the toilet. Many of them bathe regularly in water, while others prefer a dust bath: some, like the common Sparrow, indulge in both as they have opportunity. Nature gives them an entire new suit every year, sometimes two, in which case the summer and winter suits are often different. If there is any difference between the sexes it is the male which is most beautifully, or at least most brilliantly, dressed; as is fit, for he is in the front ranks, fighting and making love, while her place is in the sweet backgrounds of life, and quietness and modesty adorn her best. Why civilized man has proceeded upon exactly the opposite principle is a question for philosophers. The male bird is generally the larger and stronger, but this rule is reversed among the birds of prey: the mothers of eagles need to be Amazons.

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