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Why penguins and roadrunners don't fly

Why hummingbirds don't walk

Those tiny, stiff wings and slicked-down feathers could never lift a penguin’s blubbo body off the ground.
Those tiny, stiff wings and slicked-down feathers could never lift a penguin’s blubbo body off the ground.

Matthew: Why don't penguins fly? — Sarah Lopez, Euclid Elementary School

Gee, we see penguins on the bus all the time. You’d think one day one of them would hop a plane just to see what it was like. Well, Sarah, the truth is, penguins’ ancestors probably could fly, a long time ago. But because they now live in the middle of ice and ocean, swimming is more useful to a penguin than flying is. So they’ve evolved to fit the place they live. Penguins’ wings are like little paddles, and their feathers are something like fish scales. They aren’t true feathers. This makes them champion swimmers. They also carry around lots of fat. to keep warm. Those tiny, stiff wings and slicked-down feathers could never lift a penguin’s blubbo body off the ground. Getting a penguin to fly would be a little bit like trying to get your goldfish to fly. The bodies, wings, and feathers of flying birds need to be very light and flexible. Penguins are designed to zip through the water, using their wings for power and their feet like rudders for steering.

Penguins aren’t the only birds that can’t fly. Ostriches and some of their relatives can’t. And a few ducks and other water-loving birds are stuck on the ground, too. They’ve lost their ability to fly because they live in parts of the world where they don’t have any animals trying to eat them, so they don’t need to fly to protect themselves.

We don’t have any flightless birds in the United States, except in zoos. But we do have plenty of the bird world’s best flyers — hummingbirds. Hummers are the only birds.that can fly backwards, and they’re so fast that flying is now the only way they can get from place to place. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can’t walk.

Update

You stated in your 4/27 column: “We don’t have flightless birds in the United States, except in zoos.” Aren’t roadrunners flightless birds? — Charles Morrow, [email protected]

Hey, Chuck, read my beak: We have no flightless birds in the United States, except in zoos. Don’t believe everything you see in cartoons, dude.

Roadrunners are actually pretty good fliers. They just don’t have much reason to. They don’t hang out in trees, because they prefer desert living, and they eat things that slither, scuttle, and burrow (snakes, bugs, gophers), so they’re just happier whizzing along the ground. They stake out a territory and never move. They mate for life. They’re just not a travelin’ kind of bird, despite the fact that if they had the stamina and maybe a Winnebago bearing down on them, roadrunners could turn in a three-minute mile, according to scientists’ observations. The birds are members of the cuckoo family, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen one stuffed into one of those ugly little clocks.

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Those tiny, stiff wings and slicked-down feathers could never lift a penguin’s blubbo body off the ground.
Those tiny, stiff wings and slicked-down feathers could never lift a penguin’s blubbo body off the ground.

Matthew: Why don't penguins fly? — Sarah Lopez, Euclid Elementary School

Gee, we see penguins on the bus all the time. You’d think one day one of them would hop a plane just to see what it was like. Well, Sarah, the truth is, penguins’ ancestors probably could fly, a long time ago. But because they now live in the middle of ice and ocean, swimming is more useful to a penguin than flying is. So they’ve evolved to fit the place they live. Penguins’ wings are like little paddles, and their feathers are something like fish scales. They aren’t true feathers. This makes them champion swimmers. They also carry around lots of fat. to keep warm. Those tiny, stiff wings and slicked-down feathers could never lift a penguin’s blubbo body off the ground. Getting a penguin to fly would be a little bit like trying to get your goldfish to fly. The bodies, wings, and feathers of flying birds need to be very light and flexible. Penguins are designed to zip through the water, using their wings for power and their feet like rudders for steering.

Penguins aren’t the only birds that can’t fly. Ostriches and some of their relatives can’t. And a few ducks and other water-loving birds are stuck on the ground, too. They’ve lost their ability to fly because they live in parts of the world where they don’t have any animals trying to eat them, so they don’t need to fly to protect themselves.

We don’t have any flightless birds in the United States, except in zoos. But we do have plenty of the bird world’s best flyers — hummingbirds. Hummers are the only birds.that can fly backwards, and they’re so fast that flying is now the only way they can get from place to place. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can’t walk.

Update

You stated in your 4/27 column: “We don’t have flightless birds in the United States, except in zoos.” Aren’t roadrunners flightless birds? — Charles Morrow, [email protected]

Hey, Chuck, read my beak: We have no flightless birds in the United States, except in zoos. Don’t believe everything you see in cartoons, dude.

Roadrunners are actually pretty good fliers. They just don’t have much reason to. They don’t hang out in trees, because they prefer desert living, and they eat things that slither, scuttle, and burrow (snakes, bugs, gophers), so they’re just happier whizzing along the ground. They stake out a territory and never move. They mate for life. They’re just not a travelin’ kind of bird, despite the fact that if they had the stamina and maybe a Winnebago bearing down on them, roadrunners could turn in a three-minute mile, according to scientists’ observations. The birds are members of the cuckoo family, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen one stuffed into one of those ugly little clocks.

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