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Why do some birds have longer tails than others?

Why do some birds have longer tails than others?
Nigel Eady from Greater London (age 25-34)


One Response

  1. It partly depends on the birds’ lifestyle and method of feeding, as well as predators. You can work this put partly from tail and wing feathers.
    Some longer tails work to help balance and help certain types of manoeuvrability – a question of aerodynamics which could be seen in some of the bizarre early gilders and aeroplanes. You’ll see the same principle in pursuit predators like cheetahs that use the tail for steering and balance at speed. I’ve seen injured birds with no tail feathers (perhaps escaped from cats) which cannot control themselves in the air. I’m always impressed by the length of magpie tails and their jack of all trades flight.

    Tail flicks and flashing feather colours also work well in a display or warning to rivals or fellow birds – think of all the strutting birds you’ve seen on birds like moorhens for example.

    Watch landing ducks and other water birds and you’ll see both feet and tail spread and angled furiously to control their descent speed and direction, used as air brakes and in a style reminiscent of showy parachutists.

    Peacocks like many other birds which display to gain a mate have long elaborate tails for display (and not very functional tails for flight ), with peacocks at great risk of getting dew and tail heavy and becoming tiger food! (The ones here at Newquay Zoo roost temptingly along the cat enclosure barriers and trees). This great biological exuberance is supposedly a sign of a healthy and vigorous male. Size isn’t everything to a female – females also look for symmetry, size and perfection (as well as some excellent song and dance routines). Birds of paradise and Lyre birds are equally impressive in the tail department!

    Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo

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