Introduction to Birds

Identify characteristics of birds

With over 10,000 identified species, the birds are the most speciose of the land vertebrate classes. Abundant research has shown that birds are really an extant clade that evolved from maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs about 150 million years ago. Thus, even though the most obvious characteristic that seems to set birds apart from other extant vertebrates is the presence of feathers, we now know that feathers probably appeared in the common ancestor of both ornithischian and saurischian lineages of dinosaurs. Feathers in these clades are also homologous to reptilian scales and mammalian hair, according to the most recent research. While the wings of vertebrates like bats function without feathers, birds rely on feathers, and wings, along with other modifications of body structure and physiology, for flight, as we shall see.

What You’ll Learn to Do

  • Identify characteristics of birds
  • Describe the derived characteristics in birds that facilitate flight
  • Describe the evolutionary history of birds

Learning Activities

The learning activities for this section include the following:

  • Characteristics of Birds
  • Evolutionary History of Birds
  • Self Check: Birds