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Avian Anatomy 101

Know Your Bird Inside and Out!


Avian Anatomy 101

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

Internal Anatomy

Birds are just as different from us on the inside as they are on the outside. Read on to learn about the different parts that keep your pet going!

  • Brain: Being called a bird brain isn't necessarily a bad thing -- in fact, some may take it as a compliment! Birds are in fact extremely intelligent creatures, and as any bird owner knows, they never fail to surprise us with their capacity for learning.

  • Spinal Column: Like all vertebrates, birds have a spinal column that runs the length of their bodies, and encases the delicate spinal cord. The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system and, in essence, acts as the brain's "messenger". When the bird decides that he wants to move, the spinal cord relays the message from the brain to the muscles that correspond to the desired body part, causing movement.

  • Trachea: The trachea is a long tube that runs from the bird's throat to its lungs, and transports fresh air for the bird to breathe.

  • Esophagus: The bird's esophagus is a narrow tube that transports food from the mouth to the crop, where it will be stored until it is digested.

  • Lung: Much like human lungs, avian lungs serve to diffuse air throughout the bird's bloodstream. They are unique, however, in the fact that they have small air sacs that allow air to flow through the lung in only one direction, ensuring a constant supply of fresh oxygen.

  • Crop: In the same way that a chipmunk stores food in it's cheeks, birds store food in their crops. The crop is composed of layers of muscle tissue, and holds and softens the food until it's ready to be passed on to the gizzard.

  • Gizzard: A gizzard is a structure composed of tough muscle tissue which contains roughage that is used to grind the bird's food into a pulp. When the food is sufficiently ground, it is passed into the bird's intestine.

  • Kidney: Liquids that the bird ingests are passed into the kidneys, which filter out any waste to be expelled from the bird later.

  • Heart: Much like our human hearts, a bird's heart is divided into four chambers and serves to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Because birds are such high-energy animals, their hearts beat much faster than those of mammals. Some bird species have a resting heart rate of over 500 beats per minute!

  • Liver: A bird's liver acts much like a large filter, and rids the bird of any toxins in its body.

  • Ureter: The ureter is a tube that extends from the kidney to the cloaca, and allows liquid waste to be expelled from the bird's body.

  • Intestines: A bird's intestines work to digest the food that is pumped into them from the gizzard, absorbing the nutrients that the bird needs to function. After the food is digested, the waste is pushed into the rectum.

  • Rectum: The rectum allows waste to be expelled from the bird's body.

    While birds possess many body parts that are similar to our own, they also have parts that are extraordinarily different. By learning the function of these parts, we can become prepared, informed bird owners -- a very good thing to be in the event of an emergency.

    Congratulations on taking the first step toward a long and happy life with your pet. You never know when a little bit of knowledge can save the day!

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