Birds occur in almost every part of the world. As you explore this gallery, look at the amazing diversity of birds that live and thrive in the Delaware woods, in tropical rainforests, and even on rocky cliffs.
In addition to the birds in this gallery, the Museum houses 113,000 bird specimens and nests in its behind-the-scenes Collections and Research Division.
Take a behind the scenes tour, including the space behind the exhibit area, with Exhibits Director Helen Bilinski.
The Philippine Rainforest
Tropical rainforests are warm and wet all year. Tall trees form a green canopy where birds, insects, and other animals live. Thousands more species of plants and animals live below the canopy and on the forest floor.
Plants and animals living in rainforests around the world are often similar. Some groups of birds such as hawks, doves, and kingfishers are found in all rainforests. Differences are seen due to the great distances between rainforest areas. Birds that look alike and have similar ways of living may not be closely related. For example, the distantly related toucans from the Amazon and hornbills from the Philippines are both large birds that eat fruit and have big hollow bills.
Like the rainforests of the Amazon, the rainforests of the Philippines are in danger of destruction by humans. Loggers cut down trees for export and don’t replant the forest. Farmers burn forests to clear land so they can feed their families.
Bogs, marshes, and swamps used to be considered wasteland.
Today we know wetlands serve an important purpose in the natural world.
Wetlands help protect land against erosion, floods, and droughts and act like filters, catching impurities in water before they can pollute rivers and oceans.
They are also important habitats for many kinds of animals, especially migratory birds. Ducks, herons, warblers, and blackbirds are just a few of the dozens of species of birds in Delaware’s wetlands. Most of these birds are migratory. Every spring, they return to the same wetland after spending the winter in warmer areas.
Yellow Warblers are a common victim of the Brown-headed Cowbird. The cowbird lays its eggs in the warbler’s nest hoping that the warbler will raise the baby cowbird. Yellow Warblers often build a new nest on top of the cowbird egg so that it never hatches. Yellow Warblers breed over most of North America except in the deep south. They winter in Central and South America.
Unlike most ducks, Wood Ducks nest in holes in trees. When you visit marshy areas, look for nesting boxes that have been put up as additional nesting spots. The Wood Duck breeds throughout eastern North America and along the Pacific Coast. It winters in the warmer parts of its breeding range and in the southern Great Plains.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds use the red and yellow stripes on their shoulders to signal other males while defending their territories. Males cover their stripes with adjacent black feathers to avoid attack when they are passing through another male’s territory. The Red-winged Blackbird breeds throughout Central and North America. They leave the colder parts of the breeding range for the winter.
As in most duck species, the male does none of the work of raising the young. Female Mallards hide their nests in vegetation near the water. Her streaky brown plumage helps her stay hidden from predators while on her nest. Mallards breed throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. Populations in colder areas move south for the winter.
To attract the fish they eat, some herons place an insect on the surface of the water as bait. This species breeds throughout eastern North America, along the Pacific coast, and in Central America. It winters in the southern United States and Central America.
Temperate forests are hot in summer and cold in winter. Many of the trees lose their leaves in fall. Food, which is abundant during the warmer months, becomes scarce when snow falls.
Animals in temperate forests must adapt to winter conditions. Some birds migrate to warmer climates. Certain mammals, such as groundhogs, hibernate through the winter. Other animals, such as Cardinals, find ways to stay warm and gather food even when the temperature drops below freezing.
Temperate zones are very heavily populated by humans. Cities, suburbs, and farms have pushed many animals out of their native habitats.
One of the most distinctive birds in the Delaware forest is the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Owls are excellent night hunters. Their large eyes, flexible necks, and excellent hearing make them especially good at locating prey-usually mice, shrews, and other small mammals. Their soft wings make them difficult to hear as they swoop down and grab their prey with sharp talons.
These common nocturnal birds live in forests all over North America and parts of South America. They eat all kinds of small animals, including insects. Owls regurgitate the bones, fur, and feathers of their meals as pellets. Those “horns” on the Great Horned Owl may look fierce, but they’re really just little tufts of feathers.
Into the Woods
Huge temperate forests once covered vast areas of eastern North America. Humans cut down much of the forest to build cities and suburbs, plant crops, and create highways. But the forests haven’t completely disappeared. Just outside many major metropolitan areas, there are protected wildlife areas for deer, bear, Ruffed Grouse, and other animals.
The Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) is a member of the thrush family, which also includes robins and bluebirds. The Wood Thrush is well known for its beautiful flute-like song. It breeds throughout eastern North America and winters in Central America.
The Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) male in the diorama has his tail spread and his neck feathers displayed, perhaps to impress a female. The Ruffed Grouse is found throughout the northern forests of North America. Due to overhunting and loss of forest habitat, the Ruffed Grouse is no longer found in Delaware.
80 million years ago, the islands of New Zealand separated from the giant super-continent called Godwanaland. As a result, the species of New Zealand developed in isolation from others on Earth. Many species, such as the kiwis, are endemic–they are found nowhere else.
When Europeans came to New Zealand, they found a temperate climate much like that of the northwestern United States. They chopped down trees and brought in domestic animals such as sheep and dogs. As they cleared more and more land, many endemic species were forced from their habitats, and some became extinct.
For nearly 80 million years, there were no mammals on the islands of New Zealand. With no mammal predators to catch and eat them, many of New Zealand’s birds lost the ability to fly. But animals introduced by humans hunted flightless birds and ate the eggs from ground nests. Due to these predators, many species of birds were soon gone forever.
North Atlantic Sea Cliffs
The North Atlantic Ocean is a cold and windy place, but its waters nourish a rich bounty of fish and plankton. Auks (murres, guillemots, puffins) take advantage of this food source to raise their young during the short Arctic summer.
Auks have thick layers of feathers to keep them warm and powerful wings to help them swim underwater. They are well adapted to life in the water but very awkward on land. The only time they spend on land is when they are nesting and caring for their young. Auks nest on sheer cliffs at the ocean edge, where they and their nests are safe. They spend the rest of the year out at sea.
The Amazon Rainforest
Along the equator are warm, wet tropical rainforests. These lush habitats are home to more species of plants and animals than any other place on earth.
Life in the rainforest lives in layers. The top of the towering trees is the canopy, home to sun-loving species. Under the canopy where the air is cooler and wetter, thousands of unique plants, animals and other species have evolved.
Motmots are a small group of birds with long central tail feathers with racquet-like tips. They often swing their tails from side to side like a pendulum. No one knows the purpose of the motmot’s unusual tail.
These tanagers often travel in loud, conspicuous groups as they search for food in forests or gardens.
This unusual bird is probably most closely related to cranes. To scare away predators, it spreads its wings to show large spots that look like huge eyes.
As in most hawks, the female Black Hawk-Eagle is larger than the male, the reverse of most bird species. Scientists are not sure why.
This medium-sized falcon feeds almost exclusively on snakes, including venomous species. Scales on its feet are though to protect it from snake bites.
Fruit and Seed Eaters
Toucans are the South American equivalent of the Asian hornbills. Although both birds have huge, hollow, brightly-colored bills, they are not closely related. They evolved separately to fill the same ecological niche.
Toucans’ bills are very light and strong. They have been seen at play fencing with their bills. Toucans and toucanets use their long bills to help reach fruit at the ends of branches.
Two or three males manakins work together to attract a female. Their display includes a coordinated series of calls and flights that resemble a Ferris wheel. Only the dominant male of the group mates with the female.
Macaws’ streamlined bodies, narrow wings, and long tails are useful in their long, daily flights to find food, water, and roosting areas.
So many Hyacinth Macaws were exported in the past that this species is now endangered. Export is now illegal, but many are still captured and smuggled out for the pet trade.
The many species of parrots in the Amazon rainforest coexist because they are different sizes and use different food sources. Compare this parrot to the other two shown in the diorama.
Male cotingas use their wing feathers to make a rattling noise when they fly, perhaps as part of a display to females. Males may also puff out their purple throat feathers in display.