Aves: Immunological Characteristics of Fowls and Ostriches

  • Ke Mei Peng


Birds are one of the most prevalent animals on Earth, with more than 9700 species widely distributed throughout the world. This chapter discusses the characteristics, morphological structure, and function of avian and ostrich immune systems, as well as the latest research achievements in molecular biology. Although the immune mechanisms of birds and mammals have much in common, birds developed a number of unique characteristics during their evolution. First, unlike mammals, the bird's immune system contains a specialized organ known as the bursa of Fabricius. The thymus mass of birds is also largest during sexual maturity and gradually degenerates with age through atrophia. The lymphatic tissue of the birds is well developed and widely distributed in the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, kidneys, genitals, endocrine system, and other organs of the body. In addition, the bird's large intestine has a special cecal tonsil. The ostrich is the largest bird in the modern world, but it cannot fly because it lacks a developed sternum keel and chest muscle; its pelvis is also closed. Furthermore, the ostrich’s immune system has a small accessory spleen. Some waterfowls, including ducks and geese, have lymph nodes; however, ostriches do not. As will be shown in this chapter, poultry is a very important animal model for the study of underlying immune mechanisms.


Poultry Ostrich Immune system Morphology Structure Function Evolution Molecular biology 



The author would thank Dr. Song Hui, Xiao Ke, Yang Keli, Haseeb Kahliq and Huang Haibo for their provision of information, and thanks Dr. Professor Juming Zhong, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, USA, for correcting the English in the manuscript. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation Project of China (numbers 31272517 and 31672504).

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and publication of this work.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ke Mei Peng
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Veterinary Medicine, Huazhong Agricultural UniversityWuhanP. R. China

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