Common Myths About Birds

Myths about birds are surprisingly common, so let’s bust a few today

Have you been taken in by common myths about birds? Many of us have been, because although birds are common and most of us encounter them on a daily basis, we don’t exactly fly in the same social circles. It’s almost like we live in different worlds… and in a way, we do.

Now, birds often figure prominently in legends and superstitions; but that’s grist for another mill. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few everyday misconceptions about our fine feathered friends.

Myth #1: Birds Eat Very Little

We’ve all heard the phrase “eats like a bird,” directed at someone with little or no appetite. It’s a handy form of verbal shorthand, but it’s inaccurate. While birds may eat very little in absolute terms, in proportionate terms they’re voracious.

Flying has high metabolic requirements, so birds eat constantly. Add a high body temperature, and the requirements just get worse. Many birds eat one-quarter to one-half their body weight every day, and baby birds may eat more. Be glad no one really eats like a bird!

Myth #2: Birds Are Stupid

Well… some are. It’s hard to argue that pigeons, for example, are intellectual giants, but even they can recognize individual humans, and can be trained to perform tricks. So can chickens. Songbirds have to learn to master new songs — and let’s not forget parrots.

So watch who you’re calling a bird brain, because some birds are very bright indeed… almost scarily so. Killdeers and quail will fake injuries to draw predators (and humans) away from their nests. Some corvids, the group that contains ravens and crows (along with jays, rooks, jackdaws and magpies), are tool users.

Scientists used to think that only humans could make and use tools. Not so. Not only do chimps sometimes use tools, when presented with food puzzles, crows have been shown to make their own tools when they know it’s possible to do so. Just for fun, they also disable the smoke alarms in their labs.

Myth #3: Birds Mate For Life

Like the one about ostriches burying their heads in the sand, this is one bird myth that just won’t go away. The truth is, birds are like people: some mate for life, some don’t. Even those that apparently do aren’t monogamous; DNA tests have demonstrated that about 40% of baby birds are the result of “extramarital” affairs.

This will no doubt burst some bubbles amongst the crowd that believes in the inherent nobility of animals, much like the recent news that chimpanzees engage in warfare did. But here at Mythbusters we believe it’s better to bust such myths, about birds or otherwise, than to continue blithely on believing what just isn’t true.