Birds

Birds are the only remaining examples of dinosaurs alive today, and have existed for over 100 million years. There are almost 10,000 different species of birds found on the planet today.

The State Darwin Museum, Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Australian Museum,

Nesting Common Murres from Gould's The birds of Great Britain by Chesek, CraigAmerican Museum of Natural History

While that number doesn’t compare with the number of insect species (950,000-plus!), birds are found all over the globe, in every climate, and new species are being discovered every year. 

A Perch of Birds (ca. 1880) by Hector Giacomelli (French, 1822-1904)The Walters Art Museum

All birds share some characteristics—a four-chambered heart, feathers, toothless beaks—but appearance and behaviors can vary greatly from species to species. 

Trappen from Oken's Allgemeine Naturgeschichte für alle Stände by Finnin, DenisAmerican Museum of Natural History

No matter which natural history museum you visit, you are sure to find several exhibits featuring many kinds of birds and bird-related information.

Handsome birds

Founded in 1907 by scientist Alexander Kots, the State Darwin Museum, Moscow, was the world’s first to design displays based on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some exhibits feature examples of microevolution—how one particular animal, such as the fox, evolved over time.

Other exhibits, such as this one, display microfragments—a snapshot of the biodiversity in a particular ecosystem. One of the museum’s largest collections is of birds, several of which are featured in this tropical forest display.

The Peafowl

The peacock, or male peafowl, has blue-green iridescent feathers and long tail feathers, which are raised into a fan shape during courtship rituals. The peahen, or female, is mostly brown, which camouflages her as she protects her nest and eggs.

Rhinoceros HornbillNatural History Museum Vienna

The Rhinoceros Hornbill

The Rhinoceros Hornbill of Indonesia is one of the world’s largest hornbills. The large, mostly hollow casque, or helmet-like feature atop its golden-yellow bill is used to amplify the bird’s calls so it can be heard throughout the rainforest.

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale - Ferrara

The Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Civic Museum of Natural History) was officially founded in 1862 when the University of Ferrara began teaching natural history. At first, the museum consisted only of a small collection of minerals, but today it’s exhibits cover most branches of the life and earth sciences. 

Exhibits combine visual and educational displays to give visitors an in-depth understanding of each subject. A library and reading room invites visitors to learn more about their favorite exhibits. 

The Pelican

All pelicans share one main feature: the elastic throat pouch, which is used to catch fish. Some pelicans work together to chase and catch fish in shallow waters. Others work alone and dive from the skies onto unsuspecting fish below.

The Lyrebird

The lyrebird is famous for two things: its incredible ability to mimic sounds (including construction machinery and car alarms!) and its long tail feathers. To attract a mate, the male lyrebird fans out his tail and then “performs” other birds’ songs.

The Flamingo

Flamingos are born white or gray and later turn pink from the pigments in the shrimp and plankton they eat. Flamingos are filter feeders: they push mud through a filter in their beaks, and eat the food left behind.

QuetzalMuseo Civico di Storia Naturale di Ferrara

The Resplendent Quetzal

Because of its striking appearance, the ancient Maya and Aztecs believed this bird was a god. Nobility wore headdresses of quetzal feathers to become divine. Today, the resplendent quetzal is Guatemala’s national symbol and the name of its currency.

Half Moon Island, Antarctica

Half Moon Island is a crescent-shaped island located within the South Shetland Islands, an archipelago located between Antarctica and the southernmost tip of South America.

Despite being enclosed in an ocean of ice between the months of April and December, these islands are home to various penguins, seals, and seabirds. Many Antarctic cruises stop here to allow travelers a chance to walk a trail along the island’s southern side to get an up-close view of the wildlife.

Chinstrap Penguins

Chinstrap penguins are named for the delicate line of black extending upward from beneath their chins. These southern-dwelling penguins eat mostly krill and “toboggan” on their bellies to move about on land. They are social birds and nest on steep, rocky outcrops in large colonies. 

Global Warming

The smallest increases in average global temperature result in dramatic changes in the Antarctic Peninsula. As sea ice diminishes, krill numbers drop, which negatively affects the area’s food chain. Penguin numbers have been dropping for years as a direct result. 

Nesting birds

Located within the French Frigate Shoals just 490 miles to the northwest of Hawaii’s Oahu, Tern Island is a nesting hotspot for millions of creatures, including seabirds, monk seals, and sea turtles. In the 1940s, the U.S. built a Naval Air Station on the island. 

Garbage and toxins left behind by the U.S. Navy, and plastic trash from the nearby Great Pacific Garbage Patch have greatly polluted the island and threatened the well-being of the animals there.

Terns

Terns are seabirds that nest in large noisy colonies, feed mostly on the fish they catch by plunging into the water from above, and typically mate for life. Terns are found all over the world, even in Antarctica. 

The Nesting Process

Terns typically nest on the bare ground, using almost no nesting materials at all. The nest appears as a shallow depression that may be lined with bits of plants. Both parents take turns incubating their eggs for approximately 25 days.

Australian Museum

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum (originally named the Colonial or Sydney Museum) is the oldest museum in Australia. Highly regarded around the world, the museum not only focuses on natural history and anthropology, but also participates in Indigenous studies and community programs.

The museum features exhibits honoring some of Australia’s greatest explorers, as well as live animals to teach visitors about adaptation and natural behaviors. In 2013, the museum established the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI).

Grey Crowned Crane

The gray crowned crane lives in the wetlands of Africa. With its flamboyant plumage, this bird would look at home on a contemporary Paris runway. In fact, Balearica regulorum is an extremely primitive species—close cousins date back millions of years to the Eocene period.

Red-headed Vulture and White-rumped Vulture

Red-headed vultures are native of India, while white-rumped vultures are found throughout Europe. Both species have been classified as Critically Endangered. Both are dying off because the birds eat the carcasses of animals treated with a drug called diclofenac.

Orange-bellied Parrot

The orange-bellied parrot is a native of Australia. Threatened by habitat loss, the spread of poisonous weeds, predation by cats and foxes, and inbreeding, there are fewer than 50 orange-bellied parrots alive in the wild today.

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