I’ll admit, that last post was pretty heavy, so here’s a light little post on 5 ways that birds are more impressive than we humans:
#1: They are living dinosaurs, in the most literal sense.
#2: Their lungs are way, way better than ours. Human lungs are essentially sacks that we partially fill and partially empty with fresh air with every inhalation and exhalation, which isn’t very efficient for gas exchange. Birds, on the other hand, have a “flow-through” lung structure, which creates a constant flow of fresh air across the lungs, and prevents fresh air from mixing with older, deoxygenated air (which is what happens in human lungs). This allows for a much more efficient transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air and the bloodstream.
#3: Magnetoreception. Birds can detect magnetic fields and frequently use them for navigation. Many birds probably detect magnetic fields using small, magnetite-containing, compass-like structures inside their heads. Not only do birds detect the earth’s magnetic field (useful for migration), but they can even detect local magnetic fields, which allows them to accurately navigate an area even without visual cues about their location.
#4: Most of them can fly. Some can run. Some can swim underwater. Some can hover in midair. Many can sing (and some can do much more). A few can even dance. The point being, they would definitely come out on top in a talent competition, hands down.
#5: They have super-excellent vision. Let me count the ways:
- They can see in ultraviolet! Some birds have feather patterning in ultraviolet-colored pigments that are invisible to the human eye (and putting UV-blocking sunscreen on their feathers can mask these pigments to the birds).
- Some birds have two foveae (centers of vision) in each eye. We humans only have one per eye.
- The American Woodcock has a visual field of 360 degrees.
- Bird motion perception is so sharp that they could potentially navigate by the movement of the stars. No, not the placement of the stars – they can see the stars moving across the night sky as the earth rotates, where the human eye would only see motionless points of light.
The inescapable conclusion? We humans may think we’re special, but birds are truly amazing.
(As a side note, bird hearts are also pretty impressive. They are generally larger than mammal hearts relative to body size, and have more muscle fibers, with more mitochondria per muscle. As a result, avian hearts have more power in pumping blood. This didn’t make the list, however, because it comes with a major downside: such powerful hearts can lead to very high blood pressure.)
Gill, Frank B. Ornithology: Third Edition. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2007. Pp. 31-36, 146-150, 184-191.