Saturday, 20 May 2017

Jumping Parrots Inspire Origin of Flight Storytelling

Pacific Parrotlets. Image courtesy of markaharper1, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Joel Kontinen

When it comes to watching what birds do, it’s a small step from operational science to a just so story about how dinosaurs learnt to fly.

Here’s the latest version, courtesy of the journal Science:

If you’ve ever watched a bird hop from branch to branch in search of food, you’ve caught a glimpse at how prehistoric flying dinosaurs foraged among forest trees.”

Here’s their "proof":

That’s what researchers are saying after they trained four Pacific parrotlets (Forpus coelestis)—small, pastel-colored parrots about 13 centimeters long—to jump and fly for millet seed rewards. The researchers designed a cage decked out with perches that doubled as sensors to measure the birds’ leg forces, and surrounded the cages with high-speed cameras to study the birds’ wing beats as they moved between branches.”

If the next branch was near, the parrot jumped. If it was a bit further, it jumped and flapped its wings.

Then, the researchers used this data to figure out how some extinct birds that they define as “birdlike dinosaurs” took to the air:

“Archaeopteryx and Microraptor —feathered dinosaurs that likely flew or glided between trees—would have had the most success at boosting the range of their long jumps by 20%. The larger and heavier feathered dinosaurs Protarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx would not have been able to generate enough force from a wing beat to support their body weight or significantly increase their long jumps. The scientists surmise that Archaeopteryx developed an edge over other tree-foraging competitors by using their jumping and wing flapping to minimize energy expenditure while foraging for food in their trees. Thus, long jump Olympians of the Archaeopteryx world may have spurred the evolution of flight.”

The problem with this scenario is that it is pure Darwinian storytelling that sees birds evolving from dinosaurs.

Several studies suggest that birds and dinosaurs lived at the same time.

In addition, Archaeopteryx had the flight feathers of modern birds.


Cross, Ryan. 2017. Watch these tiny parrots reveal how dinosaurs may have learned to fly. Science (17 May).