A team of researchers, including University of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte and Swarthmore College Associate Professor of Statistics Steve C. Wang, cataloging 853 skeletal characteristics in 150 dinosaurs and analyzing the rate at which these characters change, and they found that "there was no grand jump between nonbirds and birds in morphospace." In other words, birds didn't suddenly come into existence, but evolved, bit by bit, or characteristic by characteristic. But when birds were finally a thing, they went crazy. "Once it came together fully, it unlocked great evolutionary potential that allowed birds to evolve at a super-charged rate."
Hummingbirds have been slow to give up their secrets, but slowly, we've learned to understand them.
Thanks to a certain resemblance to an insect, the hummingbird is known in French as “oiseau mouche” (fly bird). Its fondness for the calyxes of blossoms has inspired the Portuguese names “beija flor” (flower kisser) and “chupa flor” (flower sucker), and the related Spanish “pica flor” (flower poker). In other languages, hummingbirds are known as “Kolibri,” a word likely of Caribbean origin, or Trochilidae, their scientific name (which was provided by Carl Linnaeus and, curiously, seems to relate to a different bird — a type of kinglet called “trochilus” by the ancient Greeks). These inventive names reflect the wonder and enigma that surrounds these creatures and the peculiar abilities and proclivities that set them apart from other birds.[more inside]
Meet the majestic American WoodEch.
From 1851 to 1858, Henry David Thoreau noted a number of natural occurrences in detail, including the first flowering dates for over 500 species of wildflowers in Concord. Additionally, Alfred Hosmer, a botanist in the same area, had recorded the flowering dates of over 600 species of wild plants in 1878 and from 1888 to 1902. With that data, Richard Primack, a biology professor at Boston University, and fellow researcher Abraham Miller-Rushing spent years aligning old plant names with current names to study the change flowering patterns from the recorded past to present. Their phenological study concluded that plants in Concord, on average, are now flowering 10 days earlier than they were in Thoreau's time (full article for the journal BioScience). [more inside]
Western Digs is a source for "dispatches from the American ancient West." Posts are sorted into three main categories: Dinosaurs & Ancient Life (Paleontology, split into Dinosars, The Ice Age, Birds and All Fossils), Prehistoric Americans (Archaeology, split into Ancient Southwest and The Mississippians [Cahokia]), and Modern Artifacts (Historic Archaeology, including the subset The 20th Century). If you're not sure where to start reading, here are Western Digs’ Top 5 Paleontology Stories of 2013 and Western Digs’ Top 5 Archaeology Stories of 2013.
Megapode, Greek for "large foot," refers to refers to 12 species of Australasian chickenlike birds (order Galliformes), which have small heads compared to their bodies, and large feet. They are also known as Mound Builders, or Incubator Birds, as they bury their eggs in some warm material, most commonly fermenting or decomposing plant matter. But on Sulawesi island in Indonesia, Maleos bury their eggs in sun-baked or volcanically heated sands, then depart. The young hatch from their large eggs (5 times the size of chicken eggs), then dig out of their sandy incubators and walk or fly away. If you can't make it to Indonesia to see the birds in person, you can also visit the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo to see their 9 Maleos, or check out their video about Maleos and the zoo's breeding program. [more inside]
Prior to their southward migration, the godwits eat up large, until up to 55 per cent of their body weight is fat. They then reduce the size of their gut, kidney and liver by up to 25 per cent to compensate for the added weight. Godwits are amazing migratory shorebirds who travel many thousands of miles at a go. Here's a brief documentary of people studying them (12 minutes on youtube + ad, shows invasive surgery). Here's some science on their flights (creative commons). [more inside]
The male Superb Bird of Paradise has an unusual courtship routine. First he sings. Then he hops. Finally, he busts out a spectacular finishing move, which the female finds attractive and/or totally scary. [more inside]
The Feather Book, digitized by and on display at McGill University: A seventeenth-century book containing illustrations of birds and men -- composed of real feathers, beaks, and claws. More information about the book and its contents and history can be read here.
Searchable Ornithological Research Archive a site containing back issues of avian journals dating back to 1884. Some highlights: The landing forces of domestic pigeons, [pdf] an 1889 comparison of bird brains [pdf]
"Lost World" found in Indonesian Papua (with audio)
A picture's worth a thousand tweets, sure. But I still would like to know what happened here.
Why Birds Fly in a 'V'. And I thought it was because they liked the view.