For most of my life, I didn’t pay attention to birds.

Now, when someone asks me why birds are so important to me, all I can do is sigh. I shake my head. It’s as if I’ve been asked to explain why I love my brothers. And yet the question is a fair one: 

Why do birds matter?

My answer might start with the number of birds in the bird kingdom. If you could see every bird in the world, you’d see nearly every part of the world. Things with feathers can be found in every corner of every ocean. They’re found on land so bleak that no other animals live there.

Gray gulls raise their chicks in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Emperor penguins lay their eggs in Antarctica in winter. You can find sparrows in New York City traffic lights. Swifts live in sea caves and vultures on mountain cliffs in India. The only forms of life more widely distributed are microscopic.

Long and flexible necks help American flamingos hunt ​​​​​​​for food in shallow waters. They sweep their heads from side to side to collect insects and fish.