Section Summary

Birds are the most speciose group of land vertebrates and display a number of adaptations related to their ability to fly, which were first present in their therapod (maniraptoran) ancestors. Birds are endothermic (and homeothermic), meaning they have a very high metabolism that produces a considerable amount of heat, as well as structures such as feathers that allow them to retain their own body heat. These adaptations are used to regulate their internal temperature, making it largely independent of ambient thermal conditions.

Birds have feathers, which allow for insulation and flight, as well as for mating and warning signals. Flight feathers have a broad and continuously curved vane that produces lift. Some birds have pneumatic bones containing air spaces that are sometimes connected to air sacs in the body cavity. Airflow through bird lungs travels in one direction, creating a counter-current gas exchange with the blood.

Birds are highly modified diapsids and belong to a group called the archosaurs. Within the archosaurs, birds are most likely evolved from theropod (maniraptoran) dinosaurs. One of the oldest known fossils (and best known) of a “dinosaur-bird” is that of Archaeopteryx, which is dated from the Jurassic period. Modern birds are now classified into three groups: Paleognathae, Galloanserae, and Neoaves.