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Lies We Believe As Children, Part II: The Weight of Feathered Things

And now for another segment of Lies We Believe As Children, in which we tackle questions and misconceptions that we have most likely held for quite sometime (I know I have). So, onto the next: birds, or the weight of feathered things.

Did you know birds don’t weigh that much? ‘Cause they don’t. I promise there are perfectly reasonable explanations for this tomfoolery.

But first, dear readers, let me start with a story:

Back in the day when I was but a wee lil’ naturalist in southern Ohio, I was handing rehabilitated birds of prey for school groups to teach them about birds. Standing in front of the group with a barred owl on my arm, I would ask the typically 10-year-old students how much they thought it weighed. I would get answers anywhere between 20 pounds to 100 pounds. And they always thought I was super strong (Just casually holding a 100 pound creature in one hand as I talk to you? Would if I could, kiddo…).But I understand where that idea is coming from—with all their feathers and perfect posture, the barred owl looks about the size of a housecat.

They only happen to weigh about 2 pounds.

What exactly does this bird have to do to survive? Well, owls are nocturnal carnivores, which means they hunt and kill their prey in the dark of the night. It would be helpful to not be loud and chunky as you’re flying around trying to catch things that don’t want to be caught. To muffle the sound, owls are covered in a lot of fluff by way of their feathers. (Like, a lot of feathers. If you were to poke your finger through an owl’s feathery fluff—which I am not advising in any way, for your safety and the owl’s—there would be about an inch of feather before you touched skin.) And feathers are arguably very light.

Plus, they can fly. And it helps to not be super heavy. So, they have hollow bones, replaced a cumbersome heavy jaw for a lightweight (and stylish) beak, and a lack of a bladder to hold in waste—cutting down on all unnecessary weighty things.

Hence, 2 pounds of a barred owl.

Tiny birds, like sparrows weigh approximately .85 oz on average. Mallards weigh anywhere between 1.5 to 3.5 pounds (but they need to dabble and dive under water, so they are a bit more dense). Similarly, Canada geese weigh about 10 pounds. Red-tailed hawks weigh 2.5 pounds. The largest living bird, the ostrich, clocks in at an average of 230 pounds (a flightless bird who needs super strong legs to run at speeds of 40 mph? Maybe it can be a bit heavier, then, too). The smallest living bird is the bee hummingbird of Cuba; this lil’ guy is only 2.5 inches long and weighs 2 grams (that’s about as much as two cotton balls). And California quails weigh about 5.6 oz (or ⅓ pound).

Birds, like all other living creatures, are well adapted to survive. Weighing as little as possible can help them do that. Plus, it’s a cool fact to know and share at dinner parties (I can’t promise it’ll get you invited back, though).

Happy trails and quails, dear readers!


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