Modern birds are characterised by feathers, a beak with no teeth, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a lightweight but strong skeleton. All living species of birds have wings – the now extinct flightless Moa of New Zealand were the only exceptions. Wings are evolved forelimbs, and most bird species can fly, with some exceptions including ratites, penguins, and a number of diverse endemic island species. Birds also have unique digestive and respiratory systems that are highly adapted for flight. Some birds, especially corvids and parrots, are among the most intelligent animal species; a number of bird species have been observed manufacturing and using tools, and many social species exhibit cultural transmission of knowledge across generations.
Birds live and breed in most terrestrial habitats and on all seven continents, reaching their southern extreme in the Snow Petrel’s breeding colonies up to 440 kilometres (270 mi) inland in Antarctica. The highest bird diversity occurs in tropical regions. It was earlier thought that this high diversity was the result of higher speciation rates in the tropics, however recent studies found higher speciation rates in the high latitudes that were offset by greater extinction rates than in the tropics. Several families of birds have adapted to life both on the world’s oceans and in them, with some seabird species coming ashore only to breed and some penguins have been recorded diving up to 300 metres (980 ft).