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Parts of Birds

Parts of Birds

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

For many years people have been amazed by the birds ability to fly. Later, people learned more about birds, their food, their reproduction method (laying eggs) and their other abilities. Looking back in the history you will find that birds have been used for sending messages, hunting, fortune telling and many more. Some exotic birds are kept for their exceptional beauty and some domestic birds are farmed just for human food.

Among the studies that have been done about birds are the study of the birds body parts. Obviously birds are very different from human and other animals. Studying the body parts of a bird makes you able to identify different body parts and use their correct name where necessary.

In this project you will study the body parts of any specific bird of your choice and make a diagram to show each part.

This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.

Project advisor

Note to parents:

This is a display project that may be performed by students at any age. Making a diagram is a good way of learning about the body parts (anatomy) of different animals. How many of the body parts a student must learn depends on age and grade. You might skip any part that you think exceeds the grade and need of your child. Higher grade students may be required to study both internal parts and external parts.

Information Gathering:

Find out about birds, their life cycle and their body parts. You may find information about birds in the books found in your local library. Ask an adult to explain anything that you may not understand by reading. Keep track of where you got your information from.
Following are samples of information that you may find.

The first step in any research project is looking up an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias are available in print, in CDs and online. This is what you may find in an encyclopedia about the birds body parts. (From online Encarta Encyclopedia available at www.Encarta.com.

Parts of a Bird’s Body

All birds are covered with feathers, collectively called plumage, which are specialized structures of the epidermis, or outer layer of skin. The main component of feathers is keratin, a flexible protein that also forms the hair and fingernails of mammals. Feathers provide the strong yet lightweight surface area needed for powered, aerodynamic flight. They also serve as insulation, trapping pockets of air to help birds conserve their body heat. The varied patterns, colors, textures, and shapes of feathers help birds to signal their age, sex, social status, and species identity to one another. Some birds have plumage that blends in with their surroundings to provide camouflage, helping these birds escape notice by their predators. Birds use their beaks to preen their feathers, often making use of oil from a gland at the base of their tails. Preening removes dirt and parasites and keeps feathers waterproof and supple. Because feathers are nonliving structures that cannot repair themselves when worn or broken, they must be renewed periodically. Most adult birds molt—lose and replace their feathers—at least once a year.

Bird wings are highly modified forelimbs with a skeletal structure resembling that of arms. Wings may be long or short, round or pointed. The shape of a bird’s wings influences its style of flight, which may consist of gliding, soaring, or flapping. Wings are powered by flight muscles, which are the largest muscles in birds that fly. Flight muscles are located in the chest and are attached to the wings by large tendons. The breastbone, a large bone shaped like the keel of a boat, supports the flight muscles.

Nearly all birds have a tail, which helps them control the direction in which they fly and also plays a role in landing. The paired flight feathers of the tail, called retrices, extend from the margins of a bird’s tail. Smaller feathers called coverts lie on top of the retrices. Tails may be square, rounded, pointed, or forked, depending on the lengths of the retrices and the way they terminate. The shapes of bird tails vary more than the shapes of wings, possibly because tail shape is less critical to flight than wing shape. Many male birds, such as pheasants, have ornamental tails that they use to attract mating partners.

Birds have two legs; the lower part of each leg is called the tarsus. Most birds have four toes on each foot, and in many birds, including all songbirds, the first toe, called a hallux, points backwards. Bird toes are adapted in various species for grasping perches, climbing, swimming, capturing prey, and carrying and manipulating food.

Instead of heavy jaws with teeth, modern birds have toothless, lightweight jaws, called beaks or bills. Unlike humans or other mammals, birds can move their upper jaws independently of the rest of their heads. This helps them to open their mouths extremely wide. Beaks occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes, depending on the type of food a bird eats.

The eyes of birds are large and provide excellent vision. They are protected by three eyelids: an upper lid resembling that of humans, a lower lid that closes when a bird sleeps, and a third lid, called a nictitating membrane, that sweeps across the eye sideways, starting from the side near the beak. This lid is a thin, translucent fold of skin that moistens and cleans the eye and protects it from wind and bright light.

The ears of birds are completely internal, with openings placed just behind and below the eyes. In most birds, textured feathers called auriculars form a protective screen that prevents objects from entering the ear. Birds rely on their ears for hearing and also for balance, which is especially critical during flight. Two groups of birds, cave swiftlets and oilbirds, find their way in dark places by echolocation—making clicks or rattle calls and interpreting the returning echoes to obtain clues about their environment.

The throats of nearly all birds contain a syrinx (plural, syringes), an organ that is comparable to the voice box of mammals. The syrinx has two membranes that produce sound when they vibrate. Birds classified as songbirds have particularly well-developed syringes. Some songbirds, such as the wood thrush, can control each membrane independently; in this way they can sing two songs at the same time.

Birds have well-developed brains, which provide acute sensory perception, keen balance and coordination, and instinctive behavior, along with a surprising degree of intelligence. Parts of the bird brain that are especially developed are the optic lobes, where nerve impulses from the eyes are processed, and the cerebellum, which coordinates muscle actions. The cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for thought in humans, is primitive in birds. However, birds have a hyperstriatum—a forebrain component that mammals lack. This part of the brain helps songbirds to learn their songs, and scientists believe that it may also be the source of bird intelligence.

Anatomy of a Bird

What does the inside of a birds body consist of?

Birds live at a pace that would leave us breathless, exhausted, and starving. How do they keep up the pace? Like high-speed jets, birds have special features to use fuel (food and oxygen) fast and efficiently. Their fast-paced lifestyle (rapid metabolism) depends on efficient lungs, a large, fast-beating heart, and a rapid digestive system.


Lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between the blood and air. Bird lungs are smaller than those of mammals, yet they are part of the most efficient respiratory machinery known in vertebrates. Even with this efficient respiratory system, birds breathe rapidly during flight – up to 450 breaths per minute for a pigeon.

Unique to birds are air sacs. Air sacs act as a bellows to suck air into the body, then circulate it in a one-way flow through the lungs – giving the lungs a constant flow of fresh air.

The nine air sacs also act as a cooling system since birds do not have sweat glands. They contribute to stability in flight by lowering the center of gravity and act as shock-absorbers in diving birds, such as Brown Pelicans. During courtship, male grouse inflate special air sacs on their chests like brightly colored balloons to attract a mate.


A bird’s heart is much like yours – a four chambered muscle that pumps blood throughout the body. A bird’s heart weighs up to twice as much as that of a mammal of equal size because flying is strenuous. Energy-hungry muscles need a bigger, faster beating heart to send them plenty of oxygen and nutrients.

Smaller birds and mammals lead fast-paced lifestyles and generally have faster heart rates than large ones.

Hummingbird 600 beats per minute at rest Pigeon 200 beats per minute at rest Ostrich 65 beats per minute at rest Human 70 beats per minute at rest


For an animal to use food as fuel, it must digest the food – break it down small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream – and get rid of the waste products. A bird’s gut looks much like your own, but there are some differences. Many seed and grain-eating birds have a crop connected to the esophagus. The expandable crop allows birds to quickly gather and store a large amount of food, then retreat to safety to digest it.

A bird has two stomachs (we have one) to digest its food in record time. In four hours, a Spur-winged Goose can digest the same meal that it takes a rabbit 24 hours to digest. In the upper stomach, the proventriculus, food is broken down with digestive enzymes.

The lower stomach, the ventriculus, or gizzard, is a tough, muscular organ which crushes and grinds up the food, just like our teeth do for us. Remember a bird has no teeth, so it swallows food whole. Birds that eat plants and seeds have more powerful gizzards than meat and fish eaters. Many birds swallow grit or gravel to help the gizzard break down food.


Birds are known for their fast reactions, balance, coordination and instinctive behavior. Bird brains are relatively larger than those of reptiles but smaller than those of mammals. Birds are not known for reasoning abilities; however, some birds do have significant learning abilities, such as parrots trained to talk or do tricks.

Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to learn about and make a display of a bird’s body parts.

You may also choose to study on a specific question related to birds. This may be required for grades 4, 5 or more. In this case you must limit your study to a certain number of birds. I suggest to include the following birds in your study.

Ostrich, eagle, penguin, cardinal, robin, hummingbird, pelican, Toucan, turkey, duck and chicken.

Some sample questions are:

Which of the above birds can fly and which birds cannot?

Which of the above birds have teeth and which birds don’t?

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Although most birds are similar, the body parts may vary among different birds. For example some birds have teeth while some others don’t. That is why in this project you will study one specific bird.

If a scientist decides to study many different birds and compare their body parts, then variables may defined as follows:

  • Independent variable is the type of bird.
  • Dependent variable is the body parts of each bird.

You will not need to define variables if you are studying only one specific bird.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.
If you are making a display of the body parts of one specific bird, you will not need to have a hypothesis; however, if you are studying on any specific question, you must write your hypothesis before starting your experiments or observations.

Following is a sample hypothesis for the question “Which of the above birds can fly and which birds cannot?”

I think all the birds in my study can fly. My hypothesis is based on my observation of all the birds having wings and their body is covered by feathers.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Experiment/ Activity 1: Label Parts of the Bird

Step 1:

Select a bird and draw a diagram of the birds external body parts. If you do have a bird and you are good in drawing, you may draw your own diagram. You may also use an existing photo to draw a diagram or use any of the sample diagrams provided below.

Bird Diagram 1 (Click here to see the diagram)

Bird Diagram 2 (Click here to see the diagram)

Bird Diagram 3 (Click here to see the diagram)

Another bird diagram with labels

Note: You may choose to use a copy machine to enlarge your diagrams.

Step 2:

Label each part in your bird diagram with the correct name. To do that, first read the definitions below and then label the external bird anatomy diagram.

abdomen – the belly.
auriculars (ear coverts) – the feathers that cover the bird’s ear opening (located behind the eyes).
breast – the area over the belly and under the throat.
cere – the waxy-looking bumps on the upper beak of some birds (including the parrots, pigeons, and some hawks).
claws – hard talons at the end of each toe.
crown – the top of the bird’s head.
forehead – the area directly above the eyes.
lore – the area on each side of a bird’s face, between the eyes and the upper bill.
lower mandible – the lower part of the bill.
nape – the back of the neck.
primaries – the main flight feathers on the wings (they are located on lower [outer] parts of the wings). scapulars – feathers on the shoulder (also called lesser secondary coverts).
secondaries – the smaller flight feathers on the wings – they are on the upper part of the wings (above the primaries).
tail feathers – flight feathers at the end of the bird (used for steering).
toes – the digits of the feet.
throat – the area under head and above the chest.
upper mandible – the upper part of the bill.
wing coverts – small feathers that cover the base of larger wing feathers (located at the top of the wings under the scapulars).

Experiment/ Activity 2: Make A Display Board of a Bird’s Body Parts

Draw your own sketch of a bird’s body. You can use the images above or below as the blueprint of your bird’s body. Next, label the parts of your bird. It is up to you how specific you want to get with the body parts that you choose to label. Paint the body parts or glue some feather over the diagram to simulate a real bird. You may also connect some bird bones to certain parts of your diagram. Real bones and feathers can make your display more interesting.

Where can I find feather?
If you have a bird or a birdhouse, you may collect feather from around the cage or bird house. Some feathers may also be sold at craft stores.

Experiment 3: Which birds can fly and which birds cannot?


In this project I will study ostrich, eagle, penguin, cardinal, robin, hummingbird, pelican, Toucan, turkey, duck and chicken to find out which one can fly and which one cannot.


Visit a local zoo, pet store, chicken farm or any other place that you may find the birds that are subject of your study. Make observations and ask questions from bird owners to find out if each bird can fly or not. Record your results in a table like this:

Bird  Can Fly

Yes or No


If you don’t have access to all the above birds, you may ask others or find the answers by looking up each bird in an encyclopedia.

Materials and Equipment:

Access to the birds is helpful, but not required. You will need papers, pencils, cardboards and any kind of paint (water color) to prepare your display. To label the parts, you may use a computer to print the parts names and cut them and use them as labels. If you don’t have access to computer and printer, write them in your best hand writing. Write each label separately and paste them on your display.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.

Here write what you learned about birds and their body parts.


No calculation is required for this project.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.


Visit your local library and find some books about birds. You may also use the Internet or an encyclopedia to gather more information about any specific bird.
Following are some Internet Resources:



Question: Why birds have feather?

Answer: Feather will keep the birds warm and will help most birds to fly.

Birds, like all other living things have a specific genetic program that defines how they should look like and what body parts they should have.

The genetic information of birds create feather. Such genetic information is transferred from parents to the children. That is why every new bird also has feathers.