Bird Neck Appreciation Day
[Bird Neck Appreciation Day is part of Scientia Pro Publica #30, a weekly magazine of on-line science writing, and I and the Bird #125, a bi-weekly magazine of blog posts about birds.]
Birds, my friends, are strange beings. No stranger than humans, of course. But then that’s not saying much, is it?
For one thing, birds are natural-born contortionists.
Sure, humans can be contortionists, but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
And we still can’t bend our necks like this goose can.
In the carny world of old, natural freaks – limbless wonders, pinheads, midgets and bearded ladies – held top status, followed by made freaks, like tattooed people and thin men. At the bottom were the working freaks – human blockheads, sword swallowers and so on. Human contortionists would fall into the working freak category.
Not so, birds. They’re natural freaks.
It’s their extra cervical vertebrae that give birds their neck-twisting super powers.
Birds have between 13 and 25 cervical vertebrae. That’s a lot of neck bones. Humans, like all mammals, have only seven.
Even giraffes achieve their extraordinary neck flexibility with only seven vertebrae. (But what vertebrae! Giraffe neck vertebrae can be 10 inches long, massive heavy hunks of bone joined together by ball-and-socket joints similar to human shoulders and hips.)
Bird vertebrae rise higher and higher, each more delicate than the last, to create necks that are engineering marvels of lightweight flexibility.
Try this in the sideshow.
Yes, bird bodies are pretty much one unbending chunk. But we’re not talking about bird bodies today. Today is neck appreciation day.
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