Feather Degrading Bacteria Studied

December 21, 2009 by  
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The existence of feather degrading bacteria in wild birds was only discovered for the first time approximately ten years ago. This natural phenomenon has therefore been plaguing ornithologists with more questions than answers and sparked the undertaking of the recent studies done to explore the effects feather degrading bacteria has on birds, and in which birds this occurrence is more common. Even though more information has been collected in regard to the bacteria, studies remain ongoing. A few interesting facts have been discovered so far.

The feather degrading bacteria seems to target brightly colored birds more than those with dull plumage. To investigate this fact, a group of scientists chose a large colony of Eastern Bluebirds living in Virginia as test subjects, studying the population as a whole and noting the differences of the bacteria found in the male and female birds. Not only does this bacteria influence the coloring of the birds, but their general health as well.

It is now known that most wild birds carry feather degrading bacteria and some birds are even host to more than one bacteria species. The exact impact the bacteria has on their feathered hosts is still unclear, but they are not found to be in the majority. Almost all the birds in the study were found to have the bacteria, which hydrolyses the protein beta-keratin. It had been found that melanin pigmented feathers are resistant to feather degrading bacteria and that the oils used by birds to preen can also halt the growth of the bacteria. These traits confirm that defenses against these bacteria can be built and it is therefore suggested that the bacteria could have an influence on the evolution of birds. It was also found that the bacteria had a greater impact on the female birds than on their male counterparts. The bacteria seems to dull the coloring of the feathers, and scientists believe that the difference in bacteria between male and female birds could be influenced by the routines followed by each sex, and the areas they travel in. It is, however, mere speculation as scientists are still trying to confirm if the daily routine of males and females could play a role in the bacteria occurrences. Alex Gunderson, from Duke University in North Carolina commented, “If bacteria detrimentally influence feather coloration, they may place selective pressure on birds to evolve defenses against them.”

New Discovery Sheds Light on Bird Evolution

June 25, 2009 by  
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Up until a few days ago it was a commonly held belief that modern birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs such as the tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. Now new evidence has been found in favour of the theory that birds evolved separately on a parallel path to dinosaurs.

The discovery may be new, but the evidence has been there all along. Simply put, it is virtually impossible for birds to have evolved from dinosaurs. Researchers at the Oregon State Univserity (OSU) in the US pinpointed the largest significant difference in their skeletal structures – their thigh bones – as proof of this fact. Up until now the relatively fixed position of the bird’s thigh bone and the role that it plays in keeping this creature alive has gone largely unnoticed. While virtually every other land animal has a moveable thigh bone, the bird’s thigh bone, or femur, is largely fixed, making them ‘knee runners’. What is most remarkable about this feature is that it is fundamental to the continued functioning of the animal; it is the fixed position of the femur and other bird bones that keeps their air-sac lung from collapsing when the bird inhales oxygen.

Research has revealed that warm-blooded birds need about 20 times more oxygen than do reptiles which are cold-blooded. As such, they have a unique lung structure which allows for a much higher rate of gaseous exchange and activity. It is this soft and delicate structure which is carefully protected by the fixed skeletal structures that surround the lungs.

According to Devon Quick, an OSU instructor of zoology, their unusual thigh complex and the way it supports the lungs is “fundamental to bird physiology.” Quick noted that “It’s really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight.” This only adds to other evidence that birds likely did not evolve from dinosaurs – such as the feathers, wings, bones and unique locomotion and lung system that is peculiar to birds – and supports the relatively new theory that they evolved separately on a parallel path to these extinct creatures.

Grooming

February 9, 2009 by  
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Birds in the wild with take care of their own grooming needs. However, your pet bird will require some assistance from you.

Birds will keep their feathers in good condition by preening. Preening is the process whereby birds keep their feathers smooth by running their feathers through their beaks thus “zipping” the sections on the feather closed.

Bird grooming involves trimming of wings, claws and beaks, as well as bathing.

Trimming of your bird’s wings is an important part of bird grooming as it ensures the safety of your bird. Both wings should have their flight feathers trimmed. This results in a even, controlled descent to the floor. Trimming only one wing may result in “crash landings”. Trimming of the wings is not painful as the feathers do not contain nerves and are made of the same material as your fingernails. The appearance of your bird will not be altered. Before you begin trimming your bird’s wings visit your local veterinarian and he/she will demonstrate exactly how it should be done. It is important to remember that your scissors must always point away from the body of the bird. Also ensure that the person handling the bird does so carefully.

The next aspect to consider in bird grooming is that of beak and claw clipping. In the wild the beak and claws would naturally be worn down. Unfortunately birds in captivity are unable to do this. If clipping is not done the claws and beak will grow too long and the beak may become chipped or damaged. Avoid the use of sandpaper perch covers to shorten nails as these will damage the soles of the bird’s feet. The tools for clipping a small bird’s claws are nail clippers, an emery board and styptic powder (stops bleeding). Larger bird’s require a rotating grind stone. A Veterinarian should trim your bird’s beak. When trimming your bird’s nails have the styptic powder or some corn flour nearby in case of bleeding. Should any bleeding occur it is vital to take your bird to your Veterinarian.

Bathing is also important when grooming birds. This can be done by providing the bird with a suitable container of water in which to bathe. Alternatively you can spray the bird with a light mist of water. Commercial sprays for bathing are unneccessary. Bathing can take place daily or when convenient. Bird’s must be allowed to air dry, preferably in a warm room or sunlight. Whilst a hairdryer may be used, care must be taken not to burn your bird.

Grooming of birds is important to keep them in good health, and also brings you the pleasure of seeing your bird in beautiful condition.

Anatomy

February 9, 2009 by  
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Feathers are the most unique aspect of a bird’s anatomy. The feathers of a bird are made up of keratin, which is the same substance that hair, hooves and beaks are made of. The shaft, or center spine, of the feather is stiff and the tip is flexible for flight. The barbs of the feather hook together to form an air tight seal to resist the wind and also to provide insulation. The bird’s wing consists of primary feathers forming the point of the wing, and secondary and tertiary feathers further up. Contour feathers give the bird its overall shape. Down feathers provide insulation.

Now let us consider the internal anatomy of a bird. The skeleton of a bird weighs less than its feathers and thus flight is possible. The bones are so light due to their internal honeycomb structure. The inner anatomy of the bird wing, like our arm, is made up of a humerus and two lower limb bones. The digits are highly modified for flight. The breast bone of the bird has a deep keel for the attachment of flight muscles. This keel is absent in flightless birds.

Further to the internal anatomy of a bird is a look at those organs which assist in flight. There are two types of flight muscles, namely, white and red muscle. White muscle is used for bursts of activity, such as taking off quickly. Active flying birds, such as those which migrate (e.g. geese), have red flight muscles supplied with lots of blood vessels. Heat from flight must be regulated, this is done by means of the respiratory system. Birds have at least nine air sacs connecting chambers in their bodies. This supplies the muscles with extra oxygen to use. Birds have a four chambered heart like our own, only it beats at a much faster pace.

Now let us look at the parts of a bird’s anatomy used for finding and consuming food. The bill of a bird is merely an extension of the jaws and is covered in keratin. It has many nerve endings so as to feel and taste its food. Bills vary in shape and size according to the feeding habits of bird species. The bird’s gullet has a small sac called a crop in which undigested food is stored for later use, such as when feeding nestlings.

The feet of a bird function in harmony with it’s bill. In bird anatomy, the feet vary according to function. For example, birds of prey have sharp talons for killing prey; wood peckers have two toes pointing forward and two pointing back to climb effectively; and ducks have webbed feet for paddling. Interestingly, birds will not fall off a branch when sleeping due to a special locking mechanism in their legs.

All the above just briefly demonstrates what fascinating creatures birds are and how perfectly adapted the bird’s anatomy is for survival.

Evolution

February 9, 2009 by  
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Scientists theorize that birds evolved from dinosaurs. This theory for the evolution of birds was brought about by the discovery of a fossil species possessing feathers. This fossil species called Archaeopteryx lithographica dates back to 150 million years ago and is thought to have evolved from dinosaurs called theropods. Archaeopteryx lithographica had two strong legs and walked as a bird does. Its skeleton was reptilian whilst it had the feathers of a bird. Recently, two other feathered dinosaur species were discovered in China. Scientists believe that this adds further proof to the theory of the evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

Other Scientist argue that birds evolved a long period of time before Archaeopteryx. They theorize that the evolution of birds occurred from 4 legged reptiles that died out with the dinosaurs. Such scientists believe that the actual ancestors of our birds today only appeared some 65 to 53 million years ago. This view is not popular amongst scientists though.

There are two theories as to why feathers would have developed in the evolution of birds. One is that because the ancestors of birds where becoming warm-blooded, they required the insulation of feathers. Another is that they develop due to a need for flight and gliding. Whilst many creatures have been and are able to fly, feather-powered flight is unique. This ability to fly gave birds the competitive edge as they could travel over greater distances and areas whilst seeking food. This also allowed them to live in places inaccessible to other animals.

Bird species have adapted to fit into various niches (a place and purpose in relation to the entire ecological community). They have developed instincts to feed, breed and migrate in a way that is species specific.

Birds today continue to adapt to the changing conditions of the world. Unfortunately, these changing conditions have seen many species become extinct. However, increasing awareness of the need to protect the environment and the animals who live in it may ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy these fascinating creatures.

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