Where did birds come from?

Birds evolved from small dinosaurs, some of which had developed feathers 190 million years ago. The “first bird” is often considered to be Archaeopteryx, but even this animal was still half-reptile. Modern birds probably evolved rapidly after all dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago. Remember human-like animals evolved only three million years ago! So birds have been around more than 20 times longer then humans. https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evograms_06

How many birds are there in Australia?

About 900 species have been recorded in Australia, but only 740 are breeding residents, while the remainder make their nests and have babies thousands of kilometres away, in the Northern Hemisphere, and visit Australia after breeding. Almost 30 species have been introduced by white people in the last 200 years.

Where do birds go at night?

Most birds sleep at night, like we humans do. But some birds, like bats, are nocturnal, i.e. are active at night, and sleep during the day. Examples are owls and frogmouths. Some small long-distance migratory species fly at night because it’s cooler than daytime, and safer, with few predators around.

How do birds fly?

The vast majority of birds can fly due to having wings made up of feathers which form an airtight surface, and a leading edge that acts like an aerofoil, forcing the bird up against gravity. Birds without proper wings (e.g. penguins, which have flippers for swimming), or no wings at all (emus) can’t fly.

Why do birds sing?

Birds sing or call to communicate with each other, just like humans do when talking. Each of the 10,000 species of birds has distinctive calls, and most species have several different calls, which are used to say different things. One call may be used to attract mates, while other calls might be used to warn relatives of danger (humans or predators) or to discourage neighbours from trespassing on their territory.

Why do some birds like to be around humans?

Probably ever since humans evolved, some species of birds have been learning to take advantage of human behaviour, especially their wastefulness with food. These few species are so attached to humans that they may be hard to find outside cities! In other species, individual birds or groups of birds just use humans when they want to. In some countries (e.g. USA, Britain) people have been enjoying feeding birds for such a long time that the birds come to their backyards every year, especially when there isn’t much food in the bush. But they go back to the bush as soon as they can.

N Why do birds lay eggs?

Almost all vertebrate groups (i.e. fish, frogs, reptiles and even mammals) contain species that lay eggs and other species that give birth to love young. Birds are the exception as all of the approximately 10,000 species lay eggs. The reason is simple and it relates to their ability to fly. Being pregnant makes a mother heavier, and this would be a severe disadvantage to a female bird trying to fly away from a predator. Laying eggs allows birds to get rid of their eggs as soon as possible, so they are not weighed down unnecessarily.

R Why are there birds in the world?

After an amazingly long period (180 million years!) of dominating life on Earth, dinosaurs and pterosaurs suddenly became extinct about 65 million years ago, leaving the land and air vacant for surviving animals to colonise. Mammals and reptiles took over the land, and birds (which had evolved from dinosaurs) took over the skies. Fortunately, insects had already evolved, providing a plentiful food resource for birds. So the answer is simple: there was a big opportunity, and birds exploited it. In the same way, when humans evolved much later, they exploited unused resources.

R Why do magpies and plovers attack me?

Most animals care for their babies, and this includes protecting them from other animals that want to harm them. Magpies and plovers (or lapwings) aggressively attack any animal that comes too close to their nests or young. This includes humans. So even if few people actually steal eggs or harm their babies, these birds are not taking any chances. Magpies learn quickly, and if someone with red hair throws sticks at a mum or dad magpie, they will probably attack anyone with red hair!

R How do we stop Brush Turkeys ruining the garden?

Brush Turkeys were here long before humans, but before Europeans arrived, they were mostly in rainforests.

Europeans cut down most of the rainforest, so many rainforest species lost their homes. But not the Brush Turkey, which discovered a new resource – suburban gardens! Our “turkeys” are amazing animals, which we should treasure, but they are generally bad news for gardeners, raking up mulch and uprooting seedling plants in their quest for food or materials for their nest mounds. Placing chicken wire over the garden bed or veggie patches is the best way to stop them wreaking havoc. They’ll soon stop visiting the yard, and the wire can be removed.

R What do birds eat when they are not being fed by people?

Different species of birds feed on different foods. Most birds eat insects, but some feed on nectar or fruit or seeds. Some even feed on other animals. In the eucalypt forests surrounding Brisbane, cockatoos eat seeds from seed pods and nuts, while lorikeets mostly feed on the nectar in eucalypt flowers. Currawongs, butcherbirds and kookaburras feed on small animals, including insects.

R Should we feed birds?

People feed birds all around the world. In places that are extremely cold in winter, the food provided by people prevents many birds from starving. In Australia, birds don’t need additional food, but some people enjoy feeding them anyway. Studies have shown that such feeding has little negative impact on the birds, as they still obtain most of their food from the bush. But if you are going to feed birds, make sure it is the right sort of food!

N Why are there so many Pied Currawongs in suburbia now?

Probably habitat destruction and climate change affecting their previous preferred areas.

N Why do birds fly into closed windows?

They see a reflection of the sky in the glass.

N Why do birds migrate?

Usually to escape cooler weather and to go to where a plentiful supply of food high in protein which is necessary for growing chicks.

N How do the little shorebirds fly so far to breed?


N Why do different birds eat different things?


N Why do some birds become extinct?


N How do Cuckoos fool other birds to bring up their babies?


Except where otherwise noted, text for individual bird species is the copyright of Richard Noske and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International

Learning Sequences and related Student Activity Sheets are the copyright of Marie Bermingham and Val Catchpoole and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International

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