Birds (class Aves or clade Avialae) are feathered, winged, two-legged, warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrates. Aves ranks as the tetrapod class with the most living species, approximately ten thousand. Extant birds belong to the subclass Neornithes, living worldwide and ranging in size from the 2" Bee Hummingbird to the 9' Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds emerged within the theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago. Most researchers agree that modern-day birds are the only living members of the Dinosauria clade.
Modern birds are characterized by feathers, a beak with no teeth, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton. Extant birds have wings. Wings are evolved forelimbs, and most bird species can fly. Birds also have digestive and respiratory systems that are uniquely adapted for flight.
Many species annually migrate great distances, and many more perform shorter irregular movements. Birds are social, communicating with visual signals, calls, and songs, and participating in such social behaviors as cooperative breeding and hunting, flocking, and mobbing of predators. The vast majority of bird species are socially monogamous, usually for one breeding season at a time, sometimes for years, but rarely for life. Other species have polygynous (“many females”) or, rarely, polyandrous (“many males”) breeding systems. Eggs are usually laid in a nest and incubated by the parents. Most birds have an extended period of parental care after hatching.
Click or tap on any photo to learn more.