Are Birds Animals?
What’s their role in the Animal Kingdom?

Contemplating if the gorgeous winged creatures are part of the leviathan animal kingdom? Read on to explore the relationship between animals and birds.

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Iñigo Navarro

July 11, 2021


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What’s This Post About?

Birds are a stunning creation of nature that come in an array of sizes. From the massive rapturous eagle to the tiny finches and sparrows chirping around and the cardinals and warblers flashing around their gorgeous plumages, these mesmerizing creatures can be found in almost every habitat of the planet.

As fascinating as these species might occur to humans, making them an utter source of joy, causing many people to take up the birding spree, there are still some misconceptions regarding the accurate classification of the birds.

Do the physical traits and behavior of birds resonate with that of animals, or are birds an absolutely distinct category of living organisms?

If you’ve also been contemplating the roots of the birds and how they’ve been categorized, this blog will clear out any misconceptions that you might have.

The Animal Kingdom is categorized into 5 major groups, including birds. Birds belong to the Animalia Kingdom, the Phylum of Chordata, which comprises animals with vertebrates and further into the Class of Aves. Birds have an integral role in the steady functioning of the ecosystem.

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Can Birds be classified in the Animal Kingdom?

In the study of life sciences, living things have been broadly classified into five main groups. These groups are called Kingdoms. The classifications of the Kingdom include Monerans, Protists, Fungi, Plants, and Animals.

Before moving on any further, we need to determine the Kingdom in which to classify the birds. We certainly know that these species cannot be categorized as fungi or plants, neither Monerans nor Protists. So this only leaves us with the Kingdom of Animals.

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DID YOU KNOW?

Protists are generally unicellular, microscopic, nonvascular organisms that do not form tissues.

Monerans are also single-celled organisms lacking any true nuclear membrane, such as bacteria.

The Animal Kingdom comprises beings that attain their nutrition by ingesting or swallowing food. These species are able to move around themselves.

Does that sounds like birds?

Let’s go deeper into the scientific characteristics of the animals to help us assess why birds are classified as animals.

·   Animals are multicellular organisms that do not possess the element of chlorophyll or cell walls in their cells.

·   They are eukaryotic organisms - the nucleus present in their cells is enclosed in a nuclear membrane.

·   Nutrition is primarily through ingestion. Their mode of attaining food supply is heterotrophic - they depend on other organisms for food.

·   Their body is composed of muscle cells, enabling them to relax and contract their muscles.

·   Reproduction takes place sexually.

·   They solely depend on oxygen for aerobic respiration.

·   Physical growth of the organism ceases when it reaches adulthood.

Going back to our primary question, do all these characteristics resonate with the species of birds?

Yes! They do. Birds fall under the category of Animals.

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Classification of the Animal Kingdom

The Animal Kingdom is the largest and most evolved of all classified kingdoms on the planet, with around 2 million identified species. The number keeps expanding as new discoveries are made each year.

Coming in hues of shapes, sizes, and colors, the kingdom of animals is further divided into nine Phyla, out of which eight are invertebrates, and one Phylum comprises of vertebrates.

The Phylum of Vertebrates, comprising of animals with a backbone, undergo a further classification into classes. The five different classes of this Phylum include:

1. Mammals

Characterized by the presence of mammary glands where the female produces milk to feed the young, these warm-blooded animals have their bodies covered in fur or hair.

2. Birds

Characterized by feathers on the body, two legs, and wings, and lay eggs to reproduce. 

3. Fish

Fish are cold-blooded species. They live in aquatic habitats. All fish have gills to breathe and fins to move around.

4. Reptiles

Reptiles are coldblooded, vertebrate creatures that either produce by laying eggs or giving birth to their young. Their bodies are almost completely covered in scales.

5. Amphibians

Amphibians are coldblooded vertebrates with smooth and slimy skin. They are adapted to breathe through the skin as well as lungs.

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Considering purchasing this book to learn more about the Animal Kingdom descriptively. 

Classification of Birds in the Animal Kingdom

All living species are classified categories based on their physiological similarities and their genetic makeup. This grouping allows for these organisms to be sorted under specific groups, making their identification simpler.

Introduced by Carl Linnaeus, this biological system of classification is also known as Taxonomy, characterizing organisms into groups on the basis of their shared characteristics.

The classification of birds also follows a similar pattern. So let’s take a close look at the fascinating classification of birds.

DID YOU KNOW?

The classification of living things comprises of seven levels, with the lowest level taking us down to the specific species.

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Kingdom - Under the first level of classification, birds are classified into the Kingdom Animalia, which means Animals.

Phylum - the Kingdom is further divided into the next level of classification, Phylum. Birds belong to the Phylum Chordata. This group comprises animals with a backbone.

Class - The next level of classification is Class. Birds belong to the class of Aves.

The entire species of birds are classified as members of Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, and Class of Aves.

Orders - After the Aves have been classified, this level deals with the further groupings of birds. These later stages determine the in-depth classification of birds.

The Class of Aves is divided into 23 orders. Birds in the same order all comprise of very similar characteristics.

· Passerines - This is the biggest order of the Aves family, with more than half of the Aves Class belonging to this order.

· Struthioniformes - This smaller order includes Ostriches, emu’s, etc.

· Galliformes - This order includes peasants, guinea fowl, etc.

· Piciformes – This includes barbets, woodpeckers, etc.

· Apodiformes – This includes swifts, hummingbirds, treeswifts, etc.

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Family - The Class of Aves is further split into Families. The Aves comprises 142 families, each of whose name typically ends with a - dae.

Let’s consider a few examples.

· The order Apodiformes is divided into two families

  1. Apodidae (typical swifts)

  2. Hemiprocnidae (crested swifts)

· The order Piciformes is divided into four families

  1. Indicatoridae (honeyguides)

  2. Capotonidae (barbets)

  3. Ramphastidae (woodpeckers)

  4. Galbulidae (toucans, aracari)

Genus - The next level of classification is the Genus. You’ll find 2057 genus in the Class of Aves.

Species - Further classifying the Aves into smaller units are the species. So far, 9702 species of birds have been classified.

Subspecies - Sometimes, the species are also further divided into subspecies. This usually happens due to the variations among the birds of the same species living in different geographical locations. In addition, they sometimes begin to differ in appearance and characteristics due to variations in environmental factors.

DID YOU KNOW?

The bird's scientific name comprises of the genus and the species name. 

To understand this better, let’s take a look insight into the complete classification of Red cardinals and Pigeons.

Classification Red Cardinals Pigeons
Kingdom Animalia Animalia
Phylum Chordata Chordata
Class Aves Aves
Order Passeriformes Columbiformes
Family Cardinalidae Columbidae
Genus Cardinals Columba
Species C. Cardinalis C. Livia
Scientific Name Cardinalis cardinalis Columba livia domestica

Characteristics of Birds

We’ve now ascertained that the classification of birds in the animal kingdom falls under the Class of Aves.

Aves is a class of warm-blooded vertebrates - making up the category of birds species, with almost 9000 of them. These are bipedal, feathered species that are adapted to fly and reproduce by laying eggs.

Birds are wonderful creatures with astounding characteristics, making it a pleasure to watch them soaring in the sky and perching in the open spaces and trees - hence, our enticing desire and interest in the birding experience.

It may be abrupt to define what the term ‘bird’ exactly means, but by closely assessing the numerous similarities and distinct features of these creatures, we can better appreciate these mesmerizing species and take them into account during our birding adventure, as we explore the thousands of these unique species.

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Let’s explore what makes a bird a bird!

Here’s an extensive compilation of some distinct characteristics that these animals share, which enable us to identify these unique creatures that we call Birds.

· Birds are warm-blooded animals. They generate their own internal heat, not relying exclusively on the external environment to maintain their body temperature.

· All birds have backbones - this is why they are classified under the Phylum Chordata.

· Wings are an essential trait of birds. They vary in size, shape, and colors, presenting useful cues in recognizing specific species of birds.

· The forelimbs of birds are modified into wings to aid them in flight with well-adapted flight muscles.

· The posterior hind limps of these species are conditioned for walking, perching, swimming, or wading.

· There are epidermal scales on the legs and feet of the birds, with their feet typically having four toes.

· Birds are bipedal creatures, having two legs that aid them in walking, running, and perching.

· Their bodies are usually spindle-shaped - which controls the wind’s resistance, enabling it to stay aloft for longer periods.

· Most of their bodies are covered in feathers - usually referred to as the plumage. These feathers are composed of keratin and other proteins, providing a passage of air and hence mitigate heat loss and air friction.

· The lower and upper jaws of the bird are modified into beaks. Due to this, they are adapted to a multitude of feeding choices which include pickling grains, crushing seeds, scooping fruits, tearing fish, and sipping nectar.

· Birds have a wide mouth, but they do not have teeth, which means birds swallow their food directly, without chewing.

· Birds have round, small, and often stout heads, with relatively agile and flexible necks.

· Birds are known to have a remarkable eyesight with high levels of visual acuity.

· Birds only have an oil gland. They lack a sweat gland, with a thin, loose, and relatively dry skin.

· Birds have lighter structures of skeletons, with their bones ossified with a pneumatic internal composition. This lowers the overall weight of the birds, aiding them in aviation.

· Birds are oviparous species - they develop eggs with hard shells that hatch to produce offspring. These eggs have four embryonic membranes known as ambrion, chorion, allantois, and yolk sac

· Birds have a four-chambered heart with two ventricles and two atria.

· Fertilization in birds is internal, after which the mature female birds lays eggs.

· Birds have an extensive communication pattern due to the syrinx - a vocal organ present in the trachea. This enables them to communicate vocally with their expressive calls and elaborate songs. For many of them, their vocalizations are an essential component of territorial defense, courtship behavior, community involvement, and expression of emotions.

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Do all birds fly?

Among the plethora of species in the animal kingdom, birds are most adept at flying, able to cover hundreds of miles as they glide through the air. Their aviation capacities far extend that of insects and bats as they soar and maneuver around in the sky for hours.

However, it would be incorrect to say that all species of birds are masterful fliers. There are considerable variations in the flying patterns of birds. Most of these creatures use their flying along with walking, hopping, or swimming abilities to move around.

Let’s take a look at some exceptions.

· Even though penguins have wings, they are incapable of flying. Rather, they prefer to swim in the water with their paddle-like feathers.

· For birds like ostriches and emus, being flightless is a secondary condition as their rudimentary wings have made them permanently incapable of flying; hence they rely only on foot.

· Frigate and swift birds are remarkable aerialists, and would only take flight from their perches, never moving on foot.

· In California, the mountain quail migrates up and down the mountains on their feet, not preferring to fly.

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Role of birds in the Ecosystem

Varying considerably in sizes, from as small as the finches to as large as the eagle, birds are a fundamental member of the ecosystem, performing an array of functions for the steady regulation of our ecosystem.

Integral Part of the Food Chain

These species occupy prominent positions on various levels of the nutritional web, from being on the top predatory level to middle-level prey, gobbling smaller birds and insects, to chiefly feeding on plants and grains to attain their food.

Playing a vigorous role in the food chain, they help regulate the population levels of the prey and predators around. These robust feeding relationships among the animals and plants maintain a balance in the ecosystem, preventing any one species to multifold in numbers.

Control Pests

The woodpeckers, warblers, and bluebirds, among many, are known to eat massive quantities of insects and other pests.

Gliding through the sky or foraging in the fields, woodlands, or backyards, or perching in the trees, birds can grasp and nibble the insects with their beaks. These pest species are a nuisance for farmers, incessantly attacking and destroying crops and plantations around.

To many, placing nest boxes to attract birds in the area is an effective solution.

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Pollinators of Plants

According to research, birds pollinate 5% of the plants that humans actively use for consumption - either for food or medical uses.

Birds play an integral role in the pollination of seeds, hence aiding in the reproduction of plants. Whenever we contemplate seed pollinating species, butterflies and bees instantly come to mind.

Do not forget the contribution of nectar-eating birds, including the hummingbirds, sunbirds, and honey eaters who feed on the nectar and carry pollen from one flower to another, helping in the development of new plants.

Birds are Seed Dispersers

Fruits and seeds comprise the diet of a plethora of birds, including Orioles, Finches, and Mockingbirds. These birds eat the seeds, but their bodies are unable to digest these seeds; hence they release them in their droppings. Depositing the seeds at various locations, even far-off regions, sometimes completely new regions where the plants are not prevalent.

You might be amazed to know that birds have played a vital role in orienting plant life around many parts of the world, helping numerous species of plants to thrive and grow in our ecosystem by dispersing seeds all around.

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Birds Regulate the Coral Reefs

We might consider birds to be a stunning creation of nature, but their purpose in the ecosystem far exceeds their aesthetic appearance. Birds like seabirds play a vital role in maintaining the coral reefs, which are an astounding part of our ecosystem, by distributing nutrients and aiding in the fertilization of marine environments.

Seabirds are known to cover large distances to travel to the seas and oceans to feed on fish and other sea animals.

Upon returning, their highly pungent droppings are released into the colonies. These seabirds add nutrients to the soil and water. When their guano is drained into the ocean, it fertilizes the nearby coral reefs and other communities, helping the plantations to thrive.

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Essential for Regulation of Ecosystem

Our planet comprises a range of habitats, including forests, marshes, grasslands, mountainous regions, tropics, and oceans. Each of these habitats has a fundamental role for a healthy atmosphere.

Even though some of these regions have low populations of human beings, they still have an impact on our ecosystem, helping to keep the climate stable, oxygenate the air we breathe, store carbon and minimize pollutants and produce nutrients.

The presence of birds in these habitats maintains a balance in the ecosystem, preventing any one species to either outnumber or become extinct. These active members of the food web sustain the plant, herbivores, and carnivores relationship, conserving our ecosystem.

Significance of birds to humans

Birds have been integral for the survival of humans since the primeval period. Not only do they fulfill the nutritious needs of humans, but they have various other cultural and recreational benefits that help humans to thrive.

Source of Food

Birds and their eggs have long served as essential sources of food for humans since the evolution of mankind. Serving as a fundamental source of protein, the meat from birds comprises a significant part of the diet of humans who consume the meat from animals.

With the advancement in the agrarian culture over the centuries, numerous species of these birds, including chickens, pigeons, turkeys, and ducks, have been domesticated and bred for purposes of human consumption, resulting in the evolution of some of the wild species.

Poultry farming is done on large scales throughout the world to meet the food requirements of humans.

Additionally, the eggs of gulls, murrees, and terns, among many other seabirds as well as the young of muttonbirds are commercially harvested in bulk quantities to consume their meat and extract oil.

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Role as Messengers

In the primeval age, birds such as pigeons played an essential role as messengers of humans. They have long been bred and trained for the purpose of carrying human messages to far-off areas.

Dating back to the Roman era up until the calamitous World Wars, pigeons had been widely used by the forces to deliver their messages across.

Hunting Birds for Leisure

With the evolution of contemporary culture, the earnest hunting efforts to forage birds for food transitioned into a leisure activity.

The hunting of birds is now a popular sport, with bird enthusiasts spending huge sums on hunting numerous species of game birds. These include waterfowls, peasants, doves, and quails. For many of these hunting regimes, a preset standard of rules and agreements has been put into order.

Feathers are Used as Adornments

Among the many species of animals, birds are widely known for their pleasant aesthetics. These gorgeous species have always been adored for their beauty and stunning appearance - be it the elegance of the peacock, the iridescence of the hummingbird, or the magnificence of the cardinals.

The intricate feathers of birds have long been used as ornamental elements, used for decorations and embellishments. They have been used adornments on the headpieces and robes of exotic personalities and indigenous figures.

Manufacturing Pillows and Coats

Feathers have been used as an essential material to create pillows, quilts, coats, and mattresses. Initially a practice of the traditional European folk culture, this trend gradually became prevalent and bird feathers have been used as mushy fillings. They’ve also been used on arrows and fishing lures.

FUN FACT

Goose feathers are known for their softness and are often mixed with down feathers in mattresses and pillows to provide extra softness.

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Birds are Kept as Pets

Humans have always been allured by the beauty of the birds. Many of these exotic species are kept as pets, with parrots, finches, and hens among the most popular ones. Not only is it easy to tend these birds, but they add an array of glee to the atmosphere.

Recreational Exposition

The gorgeous species like the peacocks, swans, and waterfowls are known for their beauty and are widely displayed on public platforms such as parks, wildlife estates, and zoos for purposes of recreation and pleasure.

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Keep Reading!

Just like mammals and reptiles come under the classification of Animals, these winged creatures, though slightly varying in size, shape and other physical traits, also belong to the Animal Kingdom.

It is imperative to clear our misconceptions and understand the dynamic role that the birds play in maintaining our ecosystem and regulating the population control of a multitude of species by occupying a prominent position in the food web.

Now that you know of all the significant characteristics of birds, read this comprehensive guide on how to start bird watching to elevate your birding journey. 

How to Start Bird Watching? A Fantastic Guide for An Enthralling Experience!

Is the trend of birdwatching catching onto you? Are you looking to amplify your birdwatching experience? Don’t miss out on reading this fantastic guide.

Iñigo Navarro Picture

By Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Iñigo Navarro Picture

Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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