15 things everyone should know about birds

With more than 8,500 species of birds in the world, there is a lot to know about birds. But the typical person doesn't need to go all ornithologist to get by. In fact, if you just know these 15 things about birds, you'll probably be set for most situations. After you read the list, let us know if you've got any suggestions of your own. So, on with the list:

1. When you hear an eagle or a vulture in the movies, you’re almost always actually hearing the sound of a Red-tail Hawk. Moviemakers like to use this call because it’s way cooler than the actual call of those other birds. Listen to the hawk in the video below. Sound familiar?

2. We don’t have Blue Jays in California. We have Scrub Jays (photo below by Peter LaTourrette).

3. It’s better to trim your trees in the fall, rather than the spring, to avoid disturbing nests.

4. The fastest animal ever recorded in the wild is a bird, the Peregrine Falcon, which can reach speeds of up to 240 miles per hour while diving out of the sky. Top that, cheetah.

5. That said, a coyote is actually about twice as fast as a Road Runner. So, there is hope for Wile E.

6. Biologically speaking, birds are likely all we have left of the dinosaurs (The Rodan video below has zero relevance to this post, but we couldn't help ourselves).

7. Birds don’t necessarily sing because they’re happy. Normally, they just do it to attract mates and defend their territory. Incidentally, birds have flow-through lungs (as opposed to an air sac like our lungs), which is why they can sing almost continuously without having to stop and take a deep breath.

8. Crows and Ravens are some of the smartest birds out there. They’ve been known to use tools, recognize human faces, pass information among each other, and perform complex tasks in coordination.

9. Ducks are divided into two groups: dabbling and diving. Dabbling ducks stick to the shallows and feed along the surface of the water by dipping their head under. Diving ducks submerge their whole body to reach food further down. The Mallard (below, photo by Alexandra MacKenzie) is a dabbler.

10. What used to be called birdwatching is now commonly called birding. If you call a birder a birdwatcher, be prepared to be corrected.

11. If you find a baby bird outside its nest, in most cases it’s OK to just leave it. Its mother is probably nearby and it doesn’t need “rescuing.”

12. There are baby pigeons. We just don’t see them, and they grow to full size pretty fast.

13. Among animals, birds are far more monogamous as a rule than mammals.

14. Some birds make remarkable migratory journeys each year of ten thousand miles or more. Others don’t migrate at all.

15. Owls can’t turn their heads all the way around, but some can turn 270 degrees or further in either direction. Humans max out at about 160 degrees, so don't try to emulate the owls at home.

(photo at top of White-crowned Sparrow by USFWS)

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