5 Bird Myths Busted

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Have you ever heard that owls can turn their heads all the way around? Well, it's not true. Or that hummingbirds migrate with Canada Geese? That's not true, either. There are lots of bird myths out there that circulate the web from time to time, and in this week's blog, we bust five of them. Read on to learn about hummingbird migration, owls' head-turning abilities, bird relationships, and "bird brains". 

Barred Owl

1. Owls can rotate their heads a full 360 degrees.
Owls have been featured in countless books, movies, tv shows, and more, often portrayed as mythical beings with endless wisdom and a head that can spin all the way around in a mere second. Though owls are able to turn their heads much further than you or I, a full 360 degree rotation is beyond their physical abilities. Owls can, however, rotate turn their necks 270 degrees in either direction without causing damage or cutting off blood supply to the brain. Because owls aren't able to move their eyeballs - which are technically not eyeballs at all, but rather tubes - the ability to turn their heads at such wide degrees allow them to scan all angles which aids in hunting and scouting for predators. If humans were to attempt to turn our heads the way owls do, our blood vessels would tear, causing clots that could potentially lead to an embolism or stroke, and ultimately death. 

2. Hummingbirds migrate on the backs of Canada Geese. 
This is a pretty fun one to imagine, and if it were true it would be an incredible sight to see, but it is 100% false. Hummingbirds do not migrate on the backs of, or in flocks with, Canada Geese. Here are a few reasons why this interspecies relationship just wouldn't out. Reason #1: Geese don't migrate nearly early enough, hummingbirds would be waiting around in the cold with little to feed on before geese finally set off on their migratory routes. Reason #2: Hummingbirds migrate much further south than geese, meaning they'd only get a ride part way to their wintering grounds. Reason #3: Hummingbirds have a high metabolism and need to eat often just to survive. On average, a hummingbird feeds every 10-15 minutes and consumes nearly half of its body weight in insects and nectar each day. Geese travel great distances during migration before stopping to feed or rest, which would make it impossible for hummingbirds to survive the trek. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

3. Feeding hummingbirds in the fall prevents them from migrating.

Evidence suggests that modern hummingbirds evolved in the Americas 22 million years ago, surviving on a diet of insects and flower nectar. Backyard hummingbird feeding, however, did not become common practice until the early to mid 1900s when the first hummingbird feeder hit the market. Migratory hummingbird species like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Ontario's only hummingbird species) rely on a deeply-ingrained urge that tells them when it's time to migrate. Ornithologists believe this instinct is tied to subtle changes in intensity of daylight, which lets them know summer is coming to an end and it's time to get a move on to warmer climates. While your sweet homemade nectar won't keep hummingbirds from migrating, it can actually help stragglers passing through in early fall (early to mid October) when natural food sources become more scarce. 

4. Birds are stupid.
We've all heard, and maybe even used, the term "bird-brain". The definition of bird-brain is as follows: "an annoyingly stupid and shallow person", and implies that birds are less intelligent than mammals. The slang insult used today was first noted in 1936, assumingly derived from "bird-witted" which was first noted in the 1600s. But us bird lovers know these insults are simply not true of our feathered friends. Birds are capable of recognizing family members, using tools, mimicking sounds to manipulate other species, can recall past events & plan for the future, they can problem solve using their critical thinking skills, and some even engage in play. Not to mention their incredible sensorial abilities that we can't even begin to comprehend like the ability to see clearly at far distances, or hear movement below 3' of snow, or detect ultraviolet light. Birds are anything but stupid, and being labeled a bird-brain should be considered an honour, not an insult. 

Northern Cardinal pair

5. Birds are monogamous and mate for life. 
Romanticism is alive and well in the bird world, with approximately 90% of species practicing monogamy. But monogamy for birds doesn't quite mean the same thing as it does in human terms. Social monogamy is much more prevalent in birds than sexual monogamy, meaning that even though a pair may be bonded, either mate may "cheat" with other birds in order to widen the gene pool. Monogamous birds who mate with others outside of their pair bond still remain active in aspects of nesting including feeding the mate incubating eggs, and caring for young. Birds who practice monogamy may remain in a bonded pair for only one nesting season, for several years, or for life, depending on the species. Even birds who "mate for life", move on to another suitor if their original mate passes away. 

Have a wildlife myth you'd like to see featured on our social media pages? Let us know in the comments!

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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