Birds are related to dinosaurs and other cool facts

Discovery Place Nature

Some may say that one of the most surprising facts about birds is that they are related to dinosaurs, and while that is super cool, we have a few other epic facts about birds that will rock your world.

Raptors – not the ones from Jurassic Park

We are so fortunate in the Charlotte area to spot many raptors, and red-tailed hawks are often among them, soaring and circling overhead. Most red-tailed hawks are rich brown on top and pale underneath, with a streaked belly - but the coloring varies by region.

Like all raptors, red-tailed hawks have exceptional vision. They can see colors like we can. But what we bet you didn’t know is that hawks can also see in the ultraviolet range. This means that the hawks can perceive colors that we cannot.

Red-tailed hawks also see black and white, given that they are diurnal hunters. This helps them hunt at dusk when their snacks, including nocturnal animals, begin to move around.

Knock knock, who’s there?

Red-bellied woodpeckers prefer old forests with large hardwood trees, which explains why we see and hear them a lot in the 100-year-old forest that includes our Museum’s Paw Paw Nature Trail and Fort Wild.

Considered medium-sized birds, they have a distinctive black-and-white patterned back and a long, chisel-shaped bill. Male red-bellied woodpeckers have a bright red cap from their forehead to the base of their neck. Females have red only on their necks. 

Woodpeckers could give Spider-Man a run for his money; they climb-up tree trunks (called hitching) by hopping upward and using their tails for support. While that’s a novel way to get around, what we bet you didn’t know is that woodpeckers have a seatbelt on their brain.

That’s right. A woodpecker's skull is designed to absorb shock and minimize damage. The bird’s high-speed drumming motion causes a tremendous amount of stressed force known as “incident mechanical excitations.” Enter the hyoid bone! Located in the cranium, it works to secure and divert vibrating forces away from the brain.

When the woodpecker pecks, the muscles surrounding the hyoid bone contract, propelling the tongue forward inside the beak. The tension stabilizes the cranium and spine, and acts like a seatbelt to prevent excessive movement of the brain. So awesome.

Here come the birds in black

Let’s just set aside for a second that a group of crows is called a ‘murder.’ Most American crows are family-oriented, mating for life and working together in their group to raise families – you know, in a totally non-homicidal way.

You may have heard that crows are very intelligent, and that is true. Though, just like in the ‘Men in Black’ movies, you may wish you had a memory-erasing ‘neuralizer stick.’ Research shows that crows can remember human faces, with some studies indicating that they can identify individuals – especially those who pose a threat. If you’re on a crow’s naughty list, plan on staying there – they have been known to hold a grudge and commonly form a mob to attack.

So, we have already gone down a bit of a dark path, but we bet you didn’t know that American crows hold funerals. While other animals have been documented ‘grieving,’ specifically African elephants, chimpanzees and dolphins, crows also have been observed congregating around the body of a dead crow – but possibly for different reasons.

Current thinking is that the crows are more or less conducting a crime scene investigation. By remaining close to the body researchers think the crows may be gathering intel about how the bird died and its predator. Regardless of the reason, the fact that they show more than a passing interest in the dead puts them in a unique and intelligent category.

Remember, unless they perceive you as a threat they have no interest in harming you – and maybe you’ll even have a chance to observe them using tools (another sign of their intelligence) on the Paw Paw Nature Trail or in your own back yard.

  • Written by
  • Discovery Place Nature