Birds Don’t Have Teeth

I’m helping out with the Elizabeth River Project preschool field trips being held at Norfolk Botanical Gardens in Norfolk, VA. This photo shows me showing the children the recorder that I often take into the field. The kids were generally fascinated with my birding ‘tools’: binocs, bird call, field guide, recorder. A number of them, though, thought my binocs were ‘goggles’. A teachable moment indeed.

On one of our bird trips, one child consoled another as we walked through the woods looking for birds. The child was visibly afraid, and her friend said, “Don’t worry. Birds don’t have teeth.” Several things came to mind when I heard that. Young children are preoccupied with danger. (I know. I taught young children for 15 years.) And a walk through the woods can conjure up hidden dangers like animals with teeth and sharp claws. So this child was trying to comfort her friend by reassuring her that birds don’t pose a danger. But–she also unwittingly touched on an important scientific fact about birds. Birds can fly because they’re lightweight! It’s true. They have fewer, mostly hollow bones, they don’t have jaws and teeth (which together can be heavy), and their bodies are mostly covered by feathers, which are extremely tough but are mostly air. There are certainly other reasons birds can fly, but this young lady touched on a very important one.

Now here’s the overarching reason birds can fly. They have wings! I captured this shot of a honking Canada Goose along the Southern Branch and just off Inland Rd. I love this spot. I visit it in the early morning during what photographers refer to as the ‘golden hour.’ This is a great location as it’s right on the river, the rising sun is at my back, and there’s usually lots of activity.

Canada Goose
Canada Goose

Here’s an unspectacular shot of the river from that location, followed by a better and more interesting shot that I took just downriver and closer to Bells Mill Park. Now if you look closely at the wings in the Canada Goose photo you can see some of the aforementioned bones, in this case the ones to which the flight feathers are attached. The long bones that really stick out in the photo are the humerus, ulna and radius which correspond to our upper arm and forearm. If I’m not mistaken, the bird’s bones which correspond to our hand are visible too.

Elizabeth River from Inland Rd.
Elizabeth River from Inland Rd.
Elizabeth River from Inland Rd.
Elizabeth River from Inland Rd.

Back to the river photos. In the second river photo, taken (with permission) from the dock at The Preserve on the Elizabeth, there are some tall pines on the right. With some help, I just discovered an Osprey nest in one of those pines. Please see photo below. Apparently the female sitting deep in that nest (do you see the top of her head?) is incubating. I was so excited to find this nest as it’s the first Osprey nest I’ve ever seen in a tree (live or dead). The use of DDT wiped out many Ospreys, but deforestation didn’t help. Ospreys have recovered, are extremely adaptable, and thankfully many build their nests now on man-made structures like nesting platforms, channel markers and communication towers. I don’t believe many around here nest in trees. If you’d like to ‘follow’ this nest with me please visit this nest. There, too, you’ll learn more about how I made this exciting discovery. We get by with a little help from our friends, don’t we?

Osprey nest in live tree!
Osprey nest in live tree!

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