The Science of Birds

Science of Birds The Big MoSS

When we think of birds we often think of them soaring through the sky looking for prey, nesting, or just hanging out feeding at the backyard bird feeder. But, there are many birds that rarely if ever leave the ground. These flightless birds come in all sizes from Ostriches down to the Inaccessible Island Rail (named after the one place it can be found, Inaccessible Island in the southern Atlantic Ocean) it weighs in at only 30 grams.

The question is why these birds have wings at all if they do not fly? When you watch them run you might notice their wings flapping. This helps the birds gain traction which helps them go faster. For smaller birds like partridges, it can help them run up a tree to escape predators. Yes, run up the tree.

But that does not explain why these birds do not fly. Many scientists believe Ostriches, Emus, and Kiwis do not fly because they evolved on land masses with no large predators so they did not need to fly. In fact, Ostriches and Emus are the largest animals on their respective landmasses and both can do real harm if threatened by kicking the aggressor.

But what about ground-dwelling birds like the Roadrunners we have here in Arizona; why do they not fly? Could it be because there are not many trees in the desert? Could it be the best protection from predators like a hawk or a coyote is to hide in a low thorny bush where the feathers of the roadrunner would blend into the background and the thorns would be a discouragement to the predator? What do you think?

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