Why do some birds have short, blunt tails and some have long, pointy tails (example: conures/macaws vs. true parrots, crows vs. mockingbirds)? What does the tail shape have to do with the flight dynamics? Excluding cases where the male has a tail for courtship display.

Hi Megan,

Like so often happens with good questions, there isn't a simple answer to yours...

First, tail feathers (properly called rectrices, from the Latin for helmsman - the guy who steers a boat) are most of what we see as a bird's "tail", the actual, flesh-and-bone tail is a very short little stump (have a look next time you have a roast chicken dinner!).

These feathers vary greatly in shape, number and size in different species, and it does affect flight dynamics a great deal, mainly because the tail is used for steering in flight (thus the name above) and braking. Look for a fanned-out tail next time you spot a pigeon landing.

Now for your actual question: No hard and fast answer, but here are some very general ideas...

Birds that do most of their flying by gliding and soaring, like swifts and albatross, tend to have very short tails and very long wings. Living in the wide open sky, they don't usually need to steer suddenly...

Birds that do most of their flying by zipping in and out through thick forest cover, like many songbirds and the sparrowhawks that fly after them, tend to have long tails and short rounded wings. This makes them highly maneuverable.

Hope this helps!


P.S.: Macaws and Conures are just as much a " true parrot" as all the other Psittacidae. The other groups of parrots are the Cockatoos and the New Zealand parrots... However, this grouping may change, as new evidence surfaces.