Fun facts are for the birds

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 2, 2003

While out in the South Pacific during my tour in the Navy, I saw some of the strangest birds you ever saw. The Layson albatross, known as the white gooney, is a rather large bird that is beautiful in flight, is at home on the water, but is awkward at best on land. With their wingspan of nearly seven feet, their webbed feet, and large size (22 lbs.), they haven't perfected the landing. It's a sight to behold as they lower those large webbed feet (landing gear) and touch down only to tumble head over heels. They also have to gather momentum (taxi) in order to get off the ground and fly.

Seventy-one percent of the world's albatross population nests on Midway Island. There are about 800,000 birds there. They are a pelagic or open water species and may not set foot on land for a years at a time. They have a life span of more than 60 years and return to the island where they were born to pair up and nest.

They sometimes sleep on the water, making them easy prey for stealthy hunters in kayaks; most albatrosses apparently sleep while gliding in the air. They can fly great distances. Transported to Whidby Island, Wash., a bird made the 3,200 mile return in 10 days.

Another strange bird is the ostrich, that grow up to 9-feet tall. It lays the largest eggs, which are up

to 4.5" X 7" and weigh 3-pounds. An ostrich is the fastest on land clocking up to 43 m.p.h. By contrast, the roadrunner (a type of cuckoo) runs about 12 m.p.h. They also have the largest eyes (2 " across) of any bird, and have a life span of up to 40 years.

By the way, the largest extinct bird was the Dromornis stirtoni which was about 10 feet tall and weighed up to 1,000 pounds.

The smallest bird is the bee hummingbird which is 2.5 inches long, weighing only 0.06 ounces. Hummingbirds lay the smallest eggs, and always two at a time. They are the only birds capable of backwards and sideways flight.

The fastest birds are the peregrine falcon, clocked at 90 m.p.h. There are even accounts of raptors diving at speeds up to 200 m.p.h. The spine-tailed swift champion racing pigeons turn 53 m.p.h. and the Harpy Eagle can do 37-50 m.p.h.

There are only two known poisonous birds. The hooded pitohui (also called the "garbage bird"), and the ifrita, which is native to Papua, New Guinea. The toxin Homobatrachotoxin (undoubtedly pronounced as it is spelled), which is concentrated in these bird's feathers and skin, and is probably the result of something they eat. I don't want to eat there!

Other oddities of note include the bird with the longest tounge (the flamingo), the heaviest birds of prey (the Andean condor, which weighs up to 27 pounds and have a wingspan of more than 10 feet), the heaviest flyer is the great bustard, which can weigh up to 46 pounds, the Arctic tern makes the longest migration each year, flying 20,000 to 25,000 miles each year from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

Placing a copy of this article in your parakeet cage, while perhaps keeping him entertained, may give him an inferiority complex, however, if you have a cockatoo, he may enjoy it, as they can live for about 75 years.