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Baby Birds & Dinosaurs

June 4, 2014

The way baby birds use their wings helps reveal how early winged dinosaurs used theirs.



Baby birds and dinosaurs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

800px-MicroraptorGui-PaleozoologicalMuseumOfChina-May23-08 Captmondo Wikipwdia

Microraptor gui was an early winged dinosaur. (Captmondo/Paleozoological Museum of ChinaWikipedia)

Birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs. And according to functional morphologist Ashley Heers of the Royal Veterinary College, baby birds use their tiny wings in ways that may parallel how early winged dinosaurs once used their proto-wings.

ASHLEY HEERS (Royal Veterinary College, UK):

There are some conceptual similarities between the development of flight and the evolution of flight. If you think about it in both cases, you start out with an animal that can’t fly, and at some point, you end up with something that can, and the question is, what’s going on in between?


Heers says adult birds have feathers that are stiffer and more symmetrical than those of baby birds, which look more like the feathers of fossilized dinosaurs. And she thinks the dinosaurs may have used their wings as baby birds do – to help them run up slopes and to slow themselves down when falling.


They’re using these proto-wings for locomotion, just not for flight.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.