Science is something that constantly changes with time and things considered to be fact in the past, may not be true in the future. One of the better examples include my generation being taught that modern reptiles were the only survivors of the dinosaur. But as science continues to progress, it appears that birds have become another accepted survivor of these ancient creatures.
What Are Birds?
Ask any student or child what a birds are and they may answer they are animals that fly. Press them more for what sets them apart from other animals and those familiar with the topic may say that birds have feathers and beaks and lay hard-shelled eggs.
[If your child provides similar answers, you may have a budding scientist in your hands.]
However, a deeper look at birds will show that they are more diverse than what is portrayed in children’s books. These books, after all, are designed to merely introduce kids to birds.
So teaching them that not all can birds fly, such as that of the Ostrich, may confuse and frustrate them. The same goes with telling them that birds aren’t the only ones that lay hard-shelled eggs because reptiles like Crocodiles do too.
Well, now that kids have provided us with the first step by introducing us to birds, perhaps we can take another small step forward by learning more about them…
A quick look at the website of the University of California, Berkely states that birds belong to the biological class Aves. There are approximately 9,000 species scattered around the world, including the somewhat inhospitable places with the Penguin in Antarctica and the Roadrunner in Death Valley.
Apart from having feathers, another mark of birds is that these feathers can be extremely colorful. Species like the famous Peacock and Macaw have plumage that are an explosion of hues.
What Changed in Science?
One of the accepted things taught to my generation as I was growing up was that today’s reptiles which include snakes, lizards, crocodiles, alligators, were descendants of the dinosaur. Comparing appearances, which includes scaly skin and teeth, it wasn’t so hard to see the relationship.
The idea that birds descended from dinosaurs, even with the appearance of Archaeopteryx, hadn’t reached the child level yet. And if I recall correctly, even the more advanced books at the time still had not fully accepted the connection because of a single fossil discovery.
Today, globalization has opened up a lot of areas, not only to trade, but also to science. Explorations and digs now take place in countries that used to be closed off to the outside world. And it is in these newly opened areas that a few more skeletons connecting dinosaurs to birds have been found.
And thanks to these fossil finds, today’s children grow up learning that reptiles and birds are descendants of the once mighty dinosaur.
A Theory or Two
One of the theories linking present Aves to the past indicates that the scales of scales dinosaurs evolved into the lighter feather.
But instead of feathers being evolving in order for flight, some scientist speculate that they were first adopted to help trap warm air in cold climates, create a waterproof barrier to the skin underneath, and perhaps be used for courtship.
Flight, after all, has been possible without feathers. Dinosaurs like the Pterodactyl made use of skin stretched between modified limbs, much like today’s bats, for flight. And the presence of feathered dinosaurs that cannot fly, help to back up the theory that feathers weren’t initially used for flight.
When it comes to behavior, some scientists have pointed to the way birds walk while foraging for food or pecking rivals. These actions may be the same thing that the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex did when hunting down prey millions of years ago.
And when it comes to colors, some scientists have even gone as far as to postulate that the scales of the Rex may have been just as colorful as the plumage of today’s birds.
However, this theory is not without opposition. Dissenting scientists argue that the Tyrannosaurus Rex cannot be bathed in colors because it would diminish its effectiveness as a hunter. Just look at today’s predators and the one thing they tend to have in common is camouflage. If a Tyrannosaurus Rex had yellow and red skin, it would have been easy to spot from afar and may result in the specie dying out from hunger sooner than believed.
[With science continually progressing, we just might be able to get confirmation in the future.]
When Can I Find These Modern Dinosaurs?
One doesn’t have to go far to find birds. In fact, every place, including modern crowded cities and inhospitable areas, will have them. They can even be found in water, although it won’t be too deep as birds still need to breathe through the air.
Of course, it goes without saying that the more trees there are, the more birds there are too. So a park filled with several large trees will have a good number flying from branch to branch.
Some of the more exotic birds can be found in jungles or areas unoccupied by humans. But if you aren’t the type to camp out in a forest for days at a time, a zoo or ocean park may be the best option.
One such place is Baluarte in Vigan, where colorful parrots can be found perched on large branches near the entrance. What makes this place interesting is that instead of being in cages, there are no barriers separating these birds from their viewers.
[Don’t touch them as some of these birds have the power to literally crack rock.]
Birds are some of the most interesting creatures on earth. Found in all seven continents, they have been fascinating humans with their ability to walk, swim, and fly for thousands of years. In fact, many cultures have come to include birds as they are looked at to represent peace, in the case of doves, and even rebirth, as in the case of the mythical Phoenix.
When it comes to an explosion of hues, it is possible that the two other animals to eclipse them may be insects and saltwater fish. Seeing them in all their colorful glory is one of the reasons why I want to get hold of a high-powered lens for my dSLR camera. The ones I have just aren’t long enough to capture them as I always end up scaring them away.
[I could get decked out in camouflage, but it’s just too much of a hassle for an amateur like me.]
So the next time you see that tiny brown Maya perching on nearby power lines, keep in mind that it has taken them millions of years of evolution to get that way.