January 5th is National Bird Day! This day was designated by the Avian Welfare Coalition to raise awareness about the ethical treatment of wild and captive birds. Thousands of birds are captured from the wild each year for the pet trade, and many endure poor and stressful conditions. Not to mention, illegal taking of birds from the wild can lead to species becoming endangered. The AWC believes that birds should be celebrated and protected, and National Bird Day is a day to remind us of the beauty and benefits of birds! In fact, you might want to celebrate them all year round, as 2018 has been declared “Year of the Bird” by a number of organizations to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which is critical in helping to protect countless bird species.
Birds are found almost everywhere, and often coexist with humans in cities and towns. Often referred to as “backyard birds” due to being found around homes and people, these birds include the brightly colored cardinal, the stark black raven, and the mockingbird, named for its ability to mimic the sounds of other birds and animals. While these birds are able to carve out a niche alongside humanity, other species are not so lucky to be able to adapt to human encroachment, and habitat destruction coupled with illegal capturing for the pet trade can do serious harm to bird populations.
Birds are capable of astonishing feats. For example, the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal in the world, capable of diving at speeds well over 200 miles per hours as it ambushes its prey. They must use a special eyelid membrane to act as a kind of “safety goggles”, otherwise when traveling at that speed their eyes could be damaged by dust and wind.
Another amazing bird ability can be found in the owls. These predatory birds can turn their heads around nearly 270 degrees. By contrast, most humans can only turn their head about 90 degrees in either direction. Owls have excellent vision, but cannot turn their eyes very far in any direction, so to scan for prey they must rely on moving their neck. They accomplish this through a unique bone structure that allows for maximum flexibility while protecting sensitive arteries in their neck. By moving only their neck and not their entire body, owls can remain better concealed while zeroing in on their next meal.
In addition to showcasing some serious skills, many birds are brightly colored. While sometimes the color occurs naturally within the birds’ feathers, other species get their coloration from pigments in the food they eat. This is true of flamingos, which consume brine shrimp and other small organisms that are rich in a pigment that turns the flamingo’s feathers bright pink.
These bright colorations often make birds attractive as captive animals. Parrots are the most common pet bird, due to a combination of their vivid colors and the ability of some species to mimic human voices. But captivity can be stressful for parrots, as improper care of these intelligent animals can lead to the birds engaging in self destructive behavior. So celebrate this National Bird Day by raising awareness of the need for bird conservation, and by treating any bird you might encounter with the respect that all wild animals deserve.
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: Scientists today believe that modern birds are actually a specialized class of living dinosaurs. Ancient bird relatives include Archaeopteryx and Velociraptor – both known to have possessed bird-like feathers.