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There are slightly more than 10,000 species of birds worldwide, ranging from the bee hummingbird of Cuba, at only 2.75 inches long, to the ostrich, which can grow to stand 9 feet tall and weigh over 300 pounds. Birds are a living link with the dinosaurs – evidence suggests that they evolved from theropod dinosaurs 200 to 150 million years ago. Birds are all bipedal, warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrates, but beyond that the variations seem endless. Some, like the lesser prairie-chicken, are homebodies, while others are world travelers. The sooty shearwater migrates nearly 40,000 miles every year, from New Zealand to the North Pacific Ocean and back – a distance over one and a half times the circumference of the Earth.

From the trickster raven to the patriotic bald eagle, from the mating dances of western grouse to the antics of jays, birds enrich our lives with symbolism, character, and the simple grace of their presence. But life is getting harder for bird species around the world. Migratory birds face barriers to their annual journeys such as power lines, cell phone towers, and shrinking stopover points such as wetlands. Some birds have extensive ranges, such as the Sprague’s pipit, which once extended across one billion acres in North America, while others inhabit just a small corner of the earth. But whether they are wide-ranging or not, many are threatened by shrinking ranges due to energy development, livestock grazing, logging, crop agriculture, and urban development. Beautiful parrots are taken from their homes for the pet trade, and sea birds such as the albatross die from ingesting ocean-borne plastic. Of all known birds species, 1,130 (12 percent), are considered threatened by the IUCN’s 2010 Red List. Without swift action, we may lose many of our skyway navigators.