Birds (class Aves) are a group of endothermic vertebrates, characterised by feathers, a beak with no teeth, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton. Birds live worldwide and range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) bee hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) ostrich. They rank as the class of tetrapods with the most living species, at approximately ten thousand, with more than half of these being passerines, sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds.
Scientific consensus is that birds are the last surviving lineage of dinosaurs, having evolved from feathered dinosaur ancestors within the theropod group of saurischian dinosaurs. The fossil record indicates that true birds first appeared during the Cretaceous period, around 100 million years ago. However, primitive bird-like “stem-birds” that lie outside class Aves proper, in the group Avialae, have been found dating back to the mid-Jurassic period. Many of these early stem-birds, such as Archaeopteryx, were not yet capable of fully powered flight, and many retained primitive characteristics like toothy jaws in place of beaks and long bony tails.
Birds have more or less developed wings; the only known groups without wings are the extinct moa and elephant birds. Bird wings, which evolved from forelimbs, enabled birds the ability of bird flight. The digestive and respiratory systems of birds are also uniquely adapted for flight, although further speciation has led to some flightless birds, including ratites, penguins, and diverse endemic island species of birds. Some bird species of aquatic environments, particularly the aforementioned flightless penguins, and also members of the duck family, have also evolved for swimming. Birds, specifically Darwin’s finches, played an important part in the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Read more