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Perching birds

Snow bunting, bird of paradise, swallow and lyrebirdSnow bunting, bird of paradise, swallow and lyrebirdWith about 6000 species, the perching birds, or passerines, are the largest family of birds. They range in size from the tiny wren, just 10 centimetres (4 inches) long and only 9 grams (one third of an ounce) in weight, to the raven, 69 centimetres (more than 2 feet) long and weighing 2 kilograms (4.5 pounds). Most passerines are, however, generally smaller than typical members of other bird families. They are all land-living birds, although the dipper, alone among the passerines, is able to dive and swim underwater. All kinds of passerine have four toes, three pointing forwards and one backwards, an arrangement which enables them to perch on thin branches or twigs with ease. Most feed on seeds or insects, but some eat fruit or nectar. Some are omnivores, while the shrikes are carnivorous. Many small perching birds fly in a bounding motion to save energy, flapping and closing their wings alternately.

A song thrush brings a worm to her hatchlings.A song thrush brings a worm to her hatchlings.

Raising young

Most perching birds construct nests in trees or hedges, where their young will be safe from predators. The young are born naked, blind and helpless. They need to be kept warm and fed by their parents until they are old enough to fledge (develop wing muscles and feathers capable of flight).



Most perching birds belong to a sub-group called the songbirds. Though other birds can make short, simple calls, songbirds have extra muscles in their voiceboxes, allowing them to produce complex patterns of notes. Songs are used by males to establish territories and warn off intruders, but also to attract females.


The dipper, a small songbird, is the only perching bird that has an aquatic lifestyle. It swims in pursuit of insects and fish.

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