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Your Questions Answered

Itís been a slow birding week. After writing that article last week about the return of the red-winged blackbirds, Mother Nature dumped over a foot of snow on my doorstep (and car, parking lot, sidewalk, etc.) Although a few early migrants have definitely returned to New Jersey (besides the blackbirds, mourning doves have come back), and a few winter species are still hanging around, in general, thereís not a lot to write about, at least as far as my own birding experiences go.

So itís a perfect time to answer some questions that were posted on the search engine.

Q: Are Penguins Birds
A: Yes.

Some people believe that penguins are mammals. As a biology teacher, I have encountered a few students who thought that.

Birds and mammals are both believed to have evolved from reptiles, and both are exothermic, meaning that they maintain a constant body temperature. They, along with reptiles, fish and amphibians are also vertebrates, meaning they have a backbone.

Mammals, however, are covered with hair, while birds have feathers. Of course, some animals are not very furry, like whales and dolphins, but no mammals are ever feathery. Penguins look like they have fur, but in fact, they do have feathers.

Mammals also make milk for their babies. Some birds do as well, like pigeons, flamingos, and yes, emperor penguins. Female mammals have mammary glands, (also known as breasts) however, while birds do not. Penguin milk comes from the esophagus of the male penguin, who watches the egg and raises the chick while the mother hunts.

Birds also lay eggs and have beaks, unlike mammals--oops, sorry to offend you, duckbill platypus! No, I didnít forget you also have a beak and lay eggs.

One body part that birds never have is teeth. All mammals have teeth, except for the anteater (seems like there is an exception for everything, doesnít it?). Birds have two organs that mammals do not: the crop and the gizzard. You see these organs in a bag in your turkey at Thanksgiving. Some people use them to make stuffing. The crop stores food and the gizzard grinds it up.

Birds also have hollow bones to help them fly. You know how you canít give your dog a chicken bone, but you can give him a steak bone? The chicken bone is lighter and more brittle. While chickens donít fly much, most birds do, and the lighter bones help them get off the ground.

Penguins are birds. They have beaks, feathers, crops, gizzards and hollow bones. However, they are so cute, they sort of look like baby seals, so I can see how some would be confused.

Q: What are some birds beginning with the letter B?
A: Brewerís Blackbird, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Blue Winged Teal, Baltimore Oriole, Bald Eagle, Bachmannís Warbler, Brown-Headed Cowbird, Black And White Warbler. . . and lots more I canít think of right off my head!

Have a nice birding week! And keep searching and asking questions, Iím here to help!

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