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Avian Anatomy 101

Know Your Bird Inside and Out!

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Avian Anatomy 101

Photo (c) 2006 Alyson Burgess licensed to About.com, Inc.

Part of being a responsible bird owner is doing everything within your power to ensure your pet's good health. The first step in doing your part to keep your bird in top condition is to learn about how your pet's body works.

Birds are physiologically different from any other creature on the face of the earth. While they need to eat, drink, and breathe the same as we do, the parts of their bodies that carry out these functions differ drastically from our own.

Starting with a bird's external anatomy, we'll explore the unique parts that make up your feathered friend.

External Bird Anatomy

  • Beak: A bird's beak serves many purposes -- such as eating, grooming, and of course, singing! The beak is an extension of the bird's jaw bone, and is covered in keratin, the same substance that makes up our fingernails. The top part of the beak is called the cere, and is where the bird's nostrils, or nares, are located.

  • Eye: Whoever came up with the phrase "eagle eye" wasn't joking -- birds have extraordinarily accurate vision. The eye holds scores of receptor cells, called rods and cones, that translate whatever the bird looks at to the image that it sees. To give an idea of how sharp their sight is, humans typically have around 200,000 of these cells per millimeter inside of their eyes. Some birds, particularly birds of prey, have five times that many!

  • Wings: A bird's wings are constructed of a series of small thin bones similar to miniature versions of the bones in human arms. Externally, the wings are home to several different kinds of feathers: the Primary Flight Feathers, the Secondaries, the Main and Lesser Coverts, the Tertials, and the Alula.

  • Foot: The feet and legs of birds vary greatly depending on the species. Generally the legs, feet, and claws are structured to allow a bird to take off, land, climb, and grasp with them. Since birds spend most of their lives perching, the feet and legs are covered with a tougher skin than the skin on the rest of the bird's body.

  • Tail: During flight, a bird's tail acts much like the tail of an airplane -- it's used like a rudder to help the bird steer. The muscles of the tail also aid in helping the bird expand its lungs to take in extra air when needed.

  • Anus: The anus is the external opening through which the bird passes waste.

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