Possible Insights into the Evolution of Flight

June 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

A study run by the University of Montana might just be able to bring clarity to the evolution of flight, as Brandon Jackson and his team conducted research into bird flight. Their findings have recently been published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The art of flap-running by birds is the major factor discussed in the study, showing that this method could have been used by once flightless birds, and is still used by birds today to enable them to propel themselves forward. Jackson wanted to know why.

It seems that birds today will often flap their wings while walking up a slope or incline, to enable them to move forward. It is believed that this flap-run movement enables birds to take to flight. It is the same technique that is adopted by chicks, as they are unable to fly when they are born, and need to learn how to conquer this method of movement. The fact that birds are not born with flight abilities, has led researchers to believe that this very method was part of the evolution of flight. This interesting method of movement was noticed by Ken Dial while he was studying chuckars, which are part of the partridge family. After talking to locals and ranchers who have constant contact with these birds, they confirmed that most of the chuckars would rather flap-run up a hill or cliff, as it seems that it takes a lot less energy for them to flap-run instead of flying. This became very intriguing to researchers and they decided to measure how much power is being used while flap-running as opposed to flying.

They managed to record this by implanting electrodes into pigeons’ flight muscles, which could then record the muscle activity. Pigeons are very good flyers, but given inclines and ramps, the difference between flying up the incline and flap-running was analyzed. It was found that much less power was used during flap-running and that this method would therefore be crucial for chicks to learn how to fly, as well as for birds that are still developing their plumage to escape predators. This study has not only given the researchers new insight into birds but a glimpse back into the evolution of flight.

New Discovery Sheds Light on Bird Evolution

June 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Birding Tips

Up until a few days ago it was a commonly held belief that modern birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs such as the tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. Now new evidence has been found in favour of the theory that birds evolved separately on a parallel path to dinosaurs.

The discovery may be new, but the evidence has been there all along. Simply put, it is virtually impossible for birds to have evolved from dinosaurs. Researchers at the Oregon State Univserity (OSU) in the US pinpointed the largest significant difference in their skeletal structures – their thigh bones – as proof of this fact. Up until now the relatively fixed position of the bird’s thigh bone and the role that it plays in keeping this creature alive has gone largely unnoticed. While virtually every other land animal has a moveable thigh bone, the bird’s thigh bone, or femur, is largely fixed, making them ‘knee runners’. What is most remarkable about this feature is that it is fundamental to the continued functioning of the animal; it is the fixed position of the femur and other bird bones that keeps their air-sac lung from collapsing when the bird inhales oxygen.

Research has revealed that warm-blooded birds need about 20 times more oxygen than do reptiles which are cold-blooded. As such, they have a unique lung structure which allows for a much higher rate of gaseous exchange and activity. It is this soft and delicate structure which is carefully protected by the fixed skeletal structures that surround the lungs.

According to Devon Quick, an OSU instructor of zoology, their unusual thigh complex and the way it supports the lungs is “fundamental to bird physiology.” Quick noted that “It’s really strange that no one realized this before. The position of the thigh bone and muscles in birds is critical to their lung function, which in turn is what gives them enough lung capacity for flight.” This only adds to other evidence that birds likely did not evolve from dinosaurs – such as the feathers, wings, bones and unique locomotion and lung system that is peculiar to birds – and supports the relatively new theory that they evolved separately on a parallel path to these extinct creatures.

Evolution

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

Scientists theorize that birds evolved from dinosaurs. This theory for the evolution of birds was brought about by the discovery of a fossil species possessing feathers. This fossil species called Archaeopteryx lithographica dates back to 150 million years ago and is thought to have evolved from dinosaurs called theropods. Archaeopteryx lithographica had two strong legs and walked as a bird does. Its skeleton was reptilian whilst it had the feathers of a bird. Recently, two other feathered dinosaur species were discovered in China. Scientists believe that this adds further proof to the theory of the evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

Other Scientist argue that birds evolved a long period of time before Archaeopteryx. They theorize that the evolution of birds occurred from 4 legged reptiles that died out with the dinosaurs. Such scientists believe that the actual ancestors of our birds today only appeared some 65 to 53 million years ago. This view is not popular amongst scientists though.

There are two theories as to why feathers would have developed in the evolution of birds. One is that because the ancestors of birds where becoming warm-blooded, they required the insulation of feathers. Another is that they develop due to a need for flight and gliding. Whilst many creatures have been and are able to fly, feather-powered flight is unique. This ability to fly gave birds the competitive edge as they could travel over greater distances and areas whilst seeking food. This also allowed them to live in places inaccessible to other animals.

Bird species have adapted to fit into various niches (a place and purpose in relation to the entire ecological community). They have developed instincts to feed, breed and migrate in a way that is species specific.

Birds today continue to adapt to the changing conditions of the world. Unfortunately, these changing conditions have seen many species become extinct. However, increasing awareness of the need to protect the environment and the animals who live in it may ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy these fascinating creatures.

Education

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

To be a true bird enthusiast you need to have a basic education on birds.

Here we cover everything from bird anatomy, conservation, the evolution of birds as well as extinct and rare birds. We hope to provide you with expert advice and opinions to help you become a better bird enthusiast and better bird owner.

Understanding the basic behavior of birds and their patterns, will also help you become a more accomplished bird watcher.

Mirror Test Reveals Magpie’s Amazing Self-Recognition Ability

August 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

In a research project which shatters the long held belief that the ability of self-recognition was restricted to select primates, it has been discovered that Magpies also have this ability. This discovery brings another long held belief into question with regard to which part of the brain is used in the function of self-recognition. Strong evidence has indicated that it is the neocortex which comes into play in this function, but magpies do not even possess a neocortex.

Read more

New Genetic Research Turns Bird Families Upside Down

June 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

A recent study of bird genetics has researchers startled with surprising new findings. After completing the largest study of bird genetics ever undertaken, U.S. researchers are discovering that a number of birds are not as closely related to similar bird species as was previously thought.

Read more