Top Bird Expert Eric Dempsey Visits Pius X GNS

We were riveted from the start as Eric asked us “What makes a bird a bird?” After some very astute answers such as, “It has a beak” or “It can fly”, Eric informed us that only birds have feathers.. hence the title of his presentation “A World of Feathers”.

We were shown a real swan feather. These feathers fall out annually and regrow. After dipping in and out of the water, the feathers get grubby so the swan cleans them in a zip-like effect, which smoothes out the feathers so that the swan can fly. Ostrich feathers don’t experience this zip-like effect when cleaning and so, they can’t fly.

We learnt that the pheasant and the peacock are first cousins.

The pink flamingo feathers Eric showed us were really pretty. The pink in the feather shows that the bird is very healthy and has a diet rich in shrimp. Brine shrimp contains beta carotene that turns the flamingos’ feathers pink.

Feathers, Eric told us are for showing off, flying and for keeping warm. The fluffy part of the feather is closest to the bird’s body, so birds have “daily duvet days”!

The female bird is generally a brown or grey colour to act as camouflage when protecting her babies, whereas the male is very colourful to attract the female.

Eric showed us a beautiful goldfinch wing and an owl wing. Owls can rotate their heads 270 degrees because of a special muscle in the neck. Eric demonstrated how the feathers of the owl (a nocturnal creature), are designed to fly silently to catch its prey. The owl is the slowest flying bird and has a beautiful, love heart shaped face, designed to hear.

Eric talked about the swallow, only the size of a human hand and weighing 18 grammes (half the weight of a pack of Tayto crisps), with a brain the size of a pea. We learnt about the incredible journey this little bird goes on when migrating. It starts with feeding in Wexford, from there it travels 800km to the Bay of Biscay in France. It flies over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, from there across the Mediterranean Sea, to North Africa, across the Sahara desert to the jungles of Central Africa and to its final destination in South Africa… 10,000 km from Ireland! Sadly the swallow can’t swim and 7 out of 10 of them will die on this momentous voyage. The birds that do survive make the return journey in Feb/March the following year. They head to the exact same location they left the previous Autumn. Eric explained that this is possible because migrating birds have a photographic memory and, what is like a little compass/magnet in their heads.

The Arctic tern flies from the North to the South Pole and back again.

We learnt that the falcon is the fastest ever recorded bird in a dive – 388 kph. The fastest flying bird is a swift which can fly 180 kph! The baby swift leaves the nest at 6 weeks. It goes to Africa for 3 years and NEVER STOPS FLYING! It eats in the air and catches raindrops to drink. It sleeps when flying, starts falling, wakes up and ascends once again!

The humming bird is the smallest bird in the world. It’s 5 and a half centimetres, the size of a bumble bee. The baby humming bird is the size of our smallest nail. Humming birds live in North, Central and South America and can flap their wings 1000 times per minute! They are the only birds that can fly backwards and upside down.

The goldcrest is the smallest bird in Ireland.

Finally we learnt that birds use their feathers and their feet to stop themselves after flying.

Thanks Eric for a wonderful presentation. You have inspired in us, St. Pius X G.N.S. a genuine interest in that wonderful world of bird life!