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Trivia List

Name five species of flightless birds

There are five types of flightless birds that I know of (if you count species, there are somewhat more). They are:

Incidentally, chickens can fly, though chickens grown for human consumption are fattened to the point where the best that a domestic chicken has been able to fly has only been a few hundred feet...farther, incidentally, than the Wright brothers' first flight)

Now for some more facts on each bird...

If you were to ask someone to name a flightless bird, they'd probably name the ostrich (though some oddballs like me will name the kiwi first. Ostriches do not stick their head in the sand when they face danger; they run, at up to 40 miles an hour. If cornered, they rely on a defense that another species of flightless bird uses: they kick. I don't know if there have been any human casualties associated with ostrich kicks (the same can't be said about the other species of flightless birds). Not surprisingly, the ostrich lays the largest egg of any living bird: an ostrich egg takes 40 minutes to hardboil.

Penguins are probably the second most familiar of the flightless bird, what between Danny DeVito and Burgess Meredith. Penguins are only found in the Southern hemisphere, but have relatives (puffins, and auks, found in the Northern hemisphere. Fossils of giant penguins five feet tall have been found; the largest living penguin today is the Emperor Penguin, at four feet.

What can be said about the emu? It's the second largest bird in the world, outsized only by the ostrich, and found in Australia. As a result, almost no one knows about it.

Like the ostrich, cassowaries are powerful kickers; in fact, they've been known to kill people with a single swipe of their foot (the innermost of its three toes has a sharp, daggerlike nail...not quite retractable, like velociraptor, but the closest you'll find in this eon..

The kiwi is perhaps the oddest of the bunch. Aside from being the New Zealand national bird, its feathers are unique, being more hairlike than featherlike. (The apteryx, of Johnny Hart's B.C., is the name of the kiwi genus, and Hart's apteryx looks like a kiwi, though it's a bit large. However, Hart may have been depicting one of the kiwi's relatives, the extinct moa.) The oddest fact about the kiwi is that its egg, relative to the size of the bird, is enormous --- about one third the size of the bird itself.

In addition to these five, there are several species of extinct birds that are flightless. Not surprisingly, a bird that is unable to fly is at a distinct evolutionary disadvantage, unless it can kick or run (the ostrich, the cassowary, or the emu) or lives in an inhospitable enviroment (the penguin). Again, this makes the kiwi the odd bird out.

A few of the more interesting extinct flightless birds:

There's not enough space to mention the giant killer birds of South America which, fortunately, went extinct about twenty million years ago.

Did Cervantes and Shakespeare die on the same day?

On April 23, 1616, Miguel Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) died in Spain. Also on April 23, 1616, William Shakespeare (an English hack writer of no particular importance, as all his plays were just a bunch of quotes strung together) died in England.

Though they died on the same day, Cervantes actually died ten days before Shakespeare. This is because England was still on the Julian calendar, while Spain (along with all other good Catholic countries) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582. For a variety of reasons, 10 days were dropped from the Gregorian calendar, and thus (in Spain and many other countries) the day after October 5, 1582 was October 16, 1582. England, being staunchly Protestant, refused to go along with the change, and in fact did not change over to the Gregorian calendar until 1752.

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