Birds in the News

Ancient bird bones redate human activity in Madagascar by 6,000 years
Elephant birds: Who killed the largest birds that ever lived?   BBC - September 13, 2018
Prehistoric humans are under suspicion of wiping out the largest birds that ever lived after fossilized bones were discovered with telltale cut marks. According to scientists, it's evidence that the elephant birds of Madagascar were hunted and butchered for food. The remains have been dated to about 10,000 years ago. Until now, the first settlers were thought to have arrived on the island about 2,500 to 4,000 years ago.

Scientists crack mystery behind shape of bird eggs   PhysOrg - August 23, 2018
The study has discovered the reason why guillemot eggs have such a peculiar shape - a mystery that has been puzzling biologists for hundreds of years. Guillemots lay and incubate their single egg on bare cliff ledges close to the sea, which led scientists and nature enthusiasts to believe that the egg's pointed shape had evolved to help it roll in an arc Š thus keeping it from the cliff edge should it become dislodged. However, Professor Birkhead, who has been studying the behavior of guillemots, puffins and razorbills on Skomer Island in Wales for almost 50 years, has discovered that the egg's shape has evolved in order to keep the egg in place and prevent it from rolling away in the first place.

Rare intermediate fossils give researchers insight into evolution of bird-like dinosaur An international team of researchers discovered a new species of dinosaur, Xiyunykus pengi, during an expedition to Xinjiang, China. The discovery is the latest stemming from a partnership between the George Washington University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The findings along with the description of a second new intermediate species, Bannykus wulatensis. Xiyunykus and Bannykus are both alvarezsaurs, an enigmatic group of dinosaurs that share many characteristics with birds. Their bodies are slender, with a bird-like skull and many small teeth instead of the usual large, sharp cutting teeth of their meat-eating relatives.

From dinosaurs to birds
Baby bird fossil is 'rarest of the rare'   BBC - March 5, 2018

The chick lived 127 million years ago and belonged to a group of primitive birds that shared the planet with the dinosaurs. Fossils of birds from this time period are rare, with baby fossils seen as "the rarest of the rare". Scientists say the discovery gives a peek into the lives of the ancient, long-extinct birds that lived between 250 and 66 million years ago.

Scientists are stunned by this bird's feathers, which are so black they absorb 99.9% of light   BGR - January 10, 2018
In short, evolution has given the birds the blackest of black feathers. With such impressive darkness surrounding its bright blue plumage, the birds appear almost alien in their mating dances, and thatÕs apparently just what the females of the species are looking for.

Pigeons can discriminate both space, time   Science Daily - December 4, 2017
Pigeons aren't so bird-brained after all. New research shows that pigeons can discriminate the abstract concepts of space and time, likely using a different region of the brain than humans and primates to do so.

'Sooty birds' reveal hidden US air pollution   BBC - October 10, 2017
Soot trapped in the feathers of songbirds over the past 100 years is causing scientists to revise their records of air pollution. US researchers measured the black carbon found on 1,300 larks, woodpeckers and sparrows over the past century. They've produced the most complete picture to date of historic air quality over industrial parts of the US. The study also boosts our understanding of historic climate change. Black carbon, a major component of soot, is created through the incomplete burning of fossil fuels such as coal. The dirty air generated as a result became a major problem as industrialization expanded across Europe and the US at the end of the 19th century.

New evidence on how birds took to the air   BBC - October 10, 2017
New fossil evidence has pushed back a key step in the evolution of bird flight by millions of years. Skeletal changes that helped birds take to the air happened 120 million years ago, during the hey day of dinosaurs, according to a specimen from China. Features such as fused bones were thought to be present only in relatively advanced birds, living just before the dinosaurs went extinct. A strong, rigid skeleton is part of the blueprint of modern birds. The bird, Pterygornis dapingfangensi, lived in north-eastern China during the Early Cretaceous. It is only the second of its kind to be discovered and is exquisitely preserved. The find ''pushed back the date for these birds' features by over 40 million years,'' said co-researcher, Min Wang from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

How did dinosaurs evolve beaks and become birds? Scientists think they have the answer   PhysOrg - September 28, 2017
Once you know that many dinosaurs had feathers, it seems much more obvious that they probably evolved into birds. But there's still a big question. How did a set of dinosaurian jaws with abundant teeth (think T. rex) turn into the toothless jaws of modern birds, covered by a beak? Two things had to happen in this transition, suppression of the teeth and growth of the beak. Now new fossil evidence has shown how it happened.

Scientists track the brain-skull transition from dinosaurs to birds   Science Daily - September 11, 2017
The dramatic, dinosaur-to-bird transition that occurred in reptiles millions of years ago was accompanied by profound changes in the skull roof of those animals -- and holds important clues about the way the skull forms in response to changes in the brain -- according to a new study. It is the first time scientists have tracked the link between the brain's development and the roofing bones of the skull.

How dinosaurs evolved into birds - Scientists reveal how incredible transition 100 million years ago saw profound changes to animals' skulls   Daily Mail - September 11, 2017
The transition of dinosaurs to birds began around 100 million years ago, and a new study suggests that the changes during this time went well beyond the growth of feathers. New research indicates that the transition was also accompanied by profound changes to those animals' skulls. The findings hold important clues about the way the skull forms in response to changes in the brain, according to the researchers.

Secret life of the dodo revealed   BBC - August 24, 2017
Scientists are piecing together clues about the life of the dodo, hundreds of years after the flightless bird was driven to extinction. Few scientific facts are known about the hapless bird, which was last sighted in 1662. A study of bone specimens shows the chicks hatched in August and grew rapidly to adult size. The bird shed its feathers in March revealing fluffy grey plumage recorded in historical accounts by mariners.

Pigeons can learn to distinguish real words from non-words   PhysOrg - September 19, 2016
Pigeons can learn to distinguish real words from non-words by visually processing their letter combinations. The researchers found that pigeons' performance was on a par with that previously reported in baboons for this type of complex task. Their study is the first to identify a non-primate species as having "orthographic" abilities.

Birds engage in all types of sleep in flight, but in remarkably small amounts   Science Daily - August 3, 2016
For the first time, researchers have discovered that birds can sleep in flight. They measured the brain activity of frigatebirds and found that they sleep in flight with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land. How frigatebirds are able to perform adaptively on such little sleep remains a mystery.

Evolution of flight in birds   Science Daily - July 18, 2016
The group's findings suggest that wings, even those with large or ornately colored feathers, could have initially served different purposes rather than flying such as signaling or sexual selection before the development of flight.

Dodo Birds Weren't 'Dodos' After All   Live Science - February 24, 2016
Dodos weren't as dumb as their reputation suggests. New research finds that these extinct, flightless birds were likely as smart as modern pigeons, and had a better sense of smell. Dodos (Raphus cucullatus) had gone extinct by 1662, less than 100 years after their island home of Mauritius became a destination for Dutch explorers. The birds, unfamiliar with humans, were initially fearless. This made them easy pickings for hunters and also cemented their reputation as dullards. A new computed tomography (CT) scan of a rare, intact dodo skull reveals that these birds had brain-to-body sizes that are similar to those of modern pigeons.

Images: How the Bird Beak Evolved   Live Science - May 12, 2015
Researchers reverted the beaks of chicken embryos into Velociraptor-like snouts. Here's a look at the chicken experiment and results. The dinosaur-nosed chicken embryos revealed that simple genetic tweaks might have led to the development of beaks in the ancestors of birds. In fact, such anatomic changes are seen in an extinct relative of modern birds - The 85-million-year-old Hesperornis bird (shown here) has the first-known modern beak and palate. Hesperornis was discovered by the great Yale paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in the middle of the 1800s.

Cranky Parrots & Warty Pigeons Among Mauritius' Extinct Creatures   Live Science - May 7, 2015
The dodo bird was not the only wacky animal inhabitant of the island of Mauritius: Bad-tempered parrots, wart-faced pigeons and several other now-extinct but noteworthy indigenous animals called this land home, new research suggests. Historians had previously identified the animals that lived on the island before Dutch settlers arrived in the 17th century, but the details about these creatures had remained largely unknown.

Feathery fossils peg early birds to even earlier date   BBC - May 6, 2015
Scientists in China have described a new species of early bird, from two fossils with intact plumage dating to 130 million years ago. Based on the age of the surrounding rocks, this is the earliest known member of the clade that produced today's birds: Ornithuromorpha. It pushes back the branching-out of this evolutionary group by at least five million years. The little bird appears to have been a wader, capable of nimble flight.