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Swifts and Hummingbirds: Apodiformes - Physical Characteristics

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The name Apodiformes is based on the Greek words "a pous," meaning "without foot." Apodiforms have small feet and their legs are short. Many birds in this order cannot walk, and they are unable to escape quickly by simply walking and then flying away if they land on the ground.

Although their feet are weak, apodiforms are strong fliers because they have thick shoulder bones and long, powerful breastbones. Because of their neck muscles, these birds can move their heads quickly.

Some physical differences and behavioral differences separate the three families in the Apodiformes order. A family is a group of birds that have similar characteristics.

Birds in the swift family (Apodidae) eat, mate, and sleep in the air. These birds, also called typical swifts, have long, pointed wings. Their head-to-tail length ranges from 3.4 to 9.6 inches (9 to 25 centimeters). They can weigh from 0.2 to 7.6 ounces (5 to 205 grams). The swift has a short bill and a large gape, which is the width of the mouth when it is open. The swift opens its mouth to catch prey, or insects hunted for food.

Swifts' feathers are brown or black, with white patterns in some birds. Male and female birds have similar plumage (feather color).

Tree swifts belong to the Hemiprocnidae family. Unlike swifts, these birds can perch in trees. Birds range in length from 5.8 to 11.5 inches (15 to 30 centimeters), and weigh from 0.8 to 2.9 ounces (21 to 79 grams). Tree swifts have small, flat bills, large gapes, and whiskers. They have long wings and forked tails.

Tree swifts are also called crested swifts because of the crest (clump of feathers) on their foreheads. Plumage is brown or light gray, other colors may include blue, green, and white. The plumage color of the male and female birds differs.

Hummingbirds belong to the Trochilidae family. They are named for the humming sound made by their quickly vibrating wings. Hummingbirds can fly backwards and hover, staying in one place by flapping their wings.

Hummingbirds range in length from 2 to 8.7 inches (5 to 22 centimeters), and weigh from 0.07 to 0.7 ounces (1.9 to 21 grams). These birds have long, thin bills and long, forked tongues.

The hummingbird family is the most colorful member of the Apodiforme family. Plumage colors include red, green, pink, blue, yellow, and purple. Usually, female birds are less colorful than males, which helps the females hide their young from predators, animals that hunt prey for food.


Swifts and Hummingbirds: Apodiformes - Geographic Range [next]

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