Tagged: birds

These were the only birds that survived the dinosaur-killing asteroid

When the asteroid that struck the Earth in Chicxulub, Mexico, slammed into the surface some 66 million years ago it made life incredibly difficult for just about every living creature on the planet. It caused massive swings in temperature, and shrouded the Earth in a cloud of darkness which killed off plant life on a massive scale. Now, a new study into the effect the asteroid impact had on bird life is suggesting that the only birds to survive the ordeal were actually ground-dwelling species, but why was that the case?

According to the study, which was published in Current Biology, the diversity of the bird species that survived the impact and immediate aftermath was quite narrow. By studying bird fossils from the period prior to the impact and contrasting that with post-impact fossils, the researchers determined that ground-dwelling birds were the only ones who managed to tough it out, and they think they know why.

Thanks to foliage fossils from the time, scientists know that the asteroid sparked massive fires that wiped out huge sections of forest. The deforestation was so dramatic that it prevented birds from nesting as they normally would. In the centuries following the impact, ferns dominated North America, and tree-dwelling bird species simply couldn’t adjust in time. Ground-dwelling, quail-like birds on the other hand were better equipped to deal with this new landscape.

The researchers say that only a handful of modern bird types were actually around prior to the asteroid’s arrival, including the ancient ancestors of chickens and ducks. Gathering their food from the ground rather than finding it by air, these primitive birds were able to hang on against all odds.

However, as Science magazine points out, some researchers aren’t so ready to accept these dramatic findings. Some have suggested that the scientists behind the work are trying to draw broad conclusions from a smattering of evidence. “It’s a debate that’s been going on for decades,” Joel Cracraft of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City notes. “I don’t think it’s going to end any time soon.”

Incredibly rare fossil of a baby bird sheds new light on evolution of prehistoric fliers

Despite what you might assume, given the huge number of fossils uncovered in recent years, finding remains of prehistoric creatures is actually pretty hard. Add to that the obvious fact that paleontologists don’t get to decide what age an ancient creature was when it died and you can start to get an idea for how difficult it is to find a fossil of an animal that died as an infant. A newly-discovered juvenile bird specimen found in Spain is thought to have died just days after being born, and the fossil is an incredibly rare opportunity for scientists to study the development and evolution of ancient birds.

The bird is thought to have lived ever so briefly around 127 million years ago, and belonged to a group of ancient avians that were something of a half-way point between dinosaurs and modern day birds. The creature was likely covered in plumage, but also had teeth as well as claws on its wings. The study was published in Nature Communications.

The tiny bird measures just a few centimeters, but its small size belies its ability to shape science’s understanding of avian evolution. The researchers used special scanning tools to map its bone structure while preserving the fossil’s integrity, and what they discovered is that, despite being separated by tens of millions of years, the creature is not all that dissimilar from the birds we see today.

“This new discovery, together with others from around the world, allows us to peek into the world of ancient birds that lived during the age of dinosaurs,” Luis Chiappe of the LA Natural Museum of Natural History, and co-author of the study, explains. “It is amazing to realise how many of the features we see among living birds had already been developed more than 100 million years ago.”

Because of the lack of hardened bone in its sternum at its young age, researchers don’t believe the bird would have been able to fly just yet. However, that doesn’t necessarily point to the bird being entirely dependent on its parents for food, and it’s not yet known whether or not the ancient birds became independent shortly after hatching or relied on others for care. Additional examples will help to paint a clearer picture, but with how rare such a discovery is, it may be a while before scientists have a definitive answer.

Yellow cardinal spotted in Alabama baffles researchers who say it’s ‘one in a million’

It’s not often than a single wild bird can cause a stir within the birdwatching community but that’s just what one very special cardinal has managed to do in Alabama. An incredibly rare yellow cardinal has been spotted around Shelby County, and it’s such a bizarre treat that birdwatchers are making the trip just for the chance to catch a glimpse of it.

The bird, which appears totally normal aside from it’s bold coloring, was first seen by local residents who were having a hard time figuring out exactly what it was. Its golden feathers are a whole lot different from the typical crimson that cardinals are known for, and wherever it goes it manages to draw some attention. The creature has been photographed and captured on video a number of times since early February, and researchers say the peculiar mutation is a one-in-a-million occurrence.

“I’ve been birdwatching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I’ve never seen a yellow bird in the wild,” Geoffrey Hill, a biology professor at Auburn University, told AL.com. “I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.”


Local residents have been taking up posts on their porches in the hopes of spotting the unique bird as it feasts at bird feeders around the county. Some locals who have noticed the bird on their backyard feeders are keeping their addresses a closely-guarded secret for fear that bird watchers will show up by the dozens in hopes of spotting it.


“Every time I watch the bird feeder, I can see him,” Charlie Stephenson, a Shelby County resident, told AL.com. “The cardinals in my back yard typically come in the morning and again in the evening and I can only bird-watch on weekends until the time changes, but on weekends, I’ll sit there and watch for him.”

Stephenson says she spots the bird at least once a day, and she’s also the one who captured the best video of the bird so far. Given the bird’s celebrity status, this definitely won’t be the last we see of it.

Bird gets lost at sea, accidentally spawns an entire new species on a remote island

If you get lost at sea and find yourself on an island you’d probably try to build a fire, pile some sticks and stones into a makeshift home and maybe even try to signal for help. When one misguided bird found himself in the same situation, he didn’t wallow in his own self pity; he created his own entirely new species.

Over the past 36 years, scientists have been closely studying the incredible story of an entirely new bird species that seemingly came out of nowhere, and it all started with one poor finch who lost his way. The peculiar tale takes place on a remote island in the Galapagos chain tucked away in the Pacific Ocean, and it’s helping scientists to understand how new species can form much faster than we typically imagine.

Back in 1981, researchers working on a tiny volcanic island north of Santa Cruz called Daphne Major realized a strange bird that didn’t look like anything typically found on the remote dot of land. It was larger and built differently than the few bird species native to the island, and it also sounded different. It was clear that the bird wasn’t from Daphne Major, but its origins were unknown, so the scientists caught and tested the bird’s blood before releasing him. What happened next was a shock to the scientists.

Not content to live out his life on the island where he clearly didn’t belong, he actually managed to find a mate among the native finch species, resulting in hybridized offspring that were a mix of the two. These new unnamed birds were called simply “Big Bird” because they were larger than the native species, and while it was strange on its own, nature had one more curve ball in store for researchers.

After reaching maturity, the new Big Birds attempted to find mates of their own only to be met with a big problem. The hybrid birds couldn’t replicate the song of the native finches, and that, combined with their difference in size, prevented them from attracting mates. What they did manage to attract was each other, and interbreeding resulted in more and more Big Birds on the island. Now, six generations later, the hybrids are their very own established species.

The original “lost” male was eventually identified as a cactus finch that had originated on a neighboring island over 60 miles away, but the new species is now an entirely unique animal. The assumption that it takes long stretches of time to create new species has been tossed out the window, and the ongoing study of the Big Birds revealed that it takes as little as two generations for an entirely new species to take root.