(noun) A type of bird that thrives when airborne, accomplishing many essential activities in the air and spending much of its life in flight. While all birds, with the exception of flightless species, rely on their wings a great deal, aerial birds are flight specialists and have adapted their behavior to do many unique things while remaining in flight, such as…
- Feeding: Aerial birds catch prey in flight, often swallowing it whole without landing to consume their meal, though their flight path may be disrupted briefly as they feed.
- Drinking: While some aerial species do not drink regularly, instead deriving moisture from their prey, others will dip their bills into a water surface while in flight to get a drink.
- Bathing: These birds often bathe by skimming the surface of the water to wet their plumage and may shake or jostle their feathers in flight to dislodge excess water.
Aerial birds take advantage of strong air currents to aid their efficient, often acrobatic flight, though the type of flight style will vary for different species. Because these birds are such flight experts, their flying styles are often studied by aeronautical engineers and aerial birds have been instrumental in developing many different flying vehicles and machines, from commercial aircraft to remote-controlled drones.
In addition to their flight excellence, aerial birds share several other characteristics, including…
- Slender, streamlined bodies that maximize flight efficiency, along with unusually lightweight skeletons and other adaptations for easier, lengthy flight.
- Long, pointed wings that aid flight agility and create extra lift for added stamina. Some species also have long tails or tail streamers that help with acrobatic antics.
- Typically carnivorous diets, though the prey taken will vary with different species. Some aerial birds are insectivorous, while others are often piscivorous.
- Less developed feet that may be insufficient for walking or upright perching, and many of these birds cling to surfaces instead. Others may have more developed feet but can be awkward and ungainly on land, despite their grace and ease in the air.
Because aerial birds are most comfortable in the air, they often face strong hazards on land, where they are less adaptable. Invasive predators in nesting areas as well as loss of suitable habitat that can accommodate these birds' needs are the most common threats.
Examples of primarily aerial birds include swifts, swallows, martins, nighthawks, nightjars, albatrosses, petrels, frigatebirds and shearwaters. Other birds that display many aerial characteristics but are slightly more adapted to life on land as well as on the wing include terns, gulls, skimmers and pratincoles.
Photo – Barn Swallow © Craig Nash