This is video of a white ibis flying.
By Jennifer Viegas:
Extinct Bird Swung Wings Like a Club
Before humans wiped them out, these fighting birds would clobber each other over territory.
Tue Dec 28, 2010 07:01 PM ET
* A flightless Jamaican ibis bird evolved wings that functioned like a club or flail.
* The birds swung their club-like “weapons” during fights over territory, researchers suggest.
* Humans probably caused the the bird, Xenicibis xympithecus, to go extinct around 10,000 years ago.
Some dinosaurs had club-like tails that they smacked into foes, and now researchers have discovered that the wings of an extinct Jamaican bird evolved into similar structures that the bird would use to clobber rivals during fights.
The bird, Xenicibis xympithecus, is the first known animal that had limbs modified to serve as a club/flail, according to the authors of the study. The paper is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Before the flightless bird went extinct around 10,000 years ago, it must have engaged in some fierce fighting at its island nation home. Unearthed fossilized remains retain signs of traumatic injuries sustained from delivering or receiving blows.
“I would guess that they would try to grab each other using the beak and then just proceed to pound each other using the wings,” lead author Nicholas Longrich told Discovery News.
Longrich, a post doctoral associate in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, and colleague Storrs Olson made the determination after analyzing the remains of the bird, which was a relatively large long-billed, long-legged wading ibis. They immediately noticed the bird’s “bizarre” wings.
“The arm is long and spindly, and the hand bones are enlarged, curved and expanded so that the hand looks like a banana,” Longrich said, adding that both females and males had these unusually modified wings.
He and Olson believe the wings functioned like handled clubs and flails, with the arms being the “handles” of the weapons, increasing the angular velocity of the weighted “club” at the end. The bird could then swing its wings, delivering sharp blows whenever the enlarged hand bones struck an opponent.
Since ibises are monogamous and there probably weren’t a lot of animal predators going after the bird, the researchers suspect most fights had to do with staking out home turf.
“There were a lot of birds fighting over the same territories,” Longrich explained. “The best fighters — the ones with the best weapons — were able to secure a good territory and reproduce.”
A number of birds use their wings as weapons. The scientists note that some birds, including screamers, certain jacanas, the spur-winged goose, the torrent duck and nine species of lapwing, employ sharp spurs. Other birds, such as steamer ducks, sheathbills, stone curlews and swans, bear a bony knob on their wings. Two jacanas, Actophilornis and Irediparra, even have triangular blades on their wings.
But no bird — and no other vertebrate living or extinct — possessed limbs modified to serve as a jointed club or flail that could be swung, according to the scientists.
The unique method of defense was likely no match for humans, however, since the extinction of Xenicibis likely happened after people colonized Jamaica.
“Humans wiped out flightless birds like the dodo and the moa wherever they went, so my guess is that Xenicibis shared their fate,” Longrich said.
Richard Prum, chair of Yale’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, told Discovery News that Longrich and Olson make “a good argument for a novel combat function for the flightless forelimbs of this weaponized ibis. Clearly there is much more to learn about avian diversity.”
Helen James, curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, believes “the authors are correct that the wing had evolved to serve as a specialized weapon.”
“I can just imagine the rapid-fire blows that these ibises could deliver with their flail-like wings,” she added.
Flying High: Birds and Coffee in Jamaica: here.
What colors were the first birds? Our avian friends appeared about 150 million years ago, and some prehistoric bird fossils have been found with their feathers nearly intact. But the colors faded away long ago, leaving paleontologists in the dark about the original hues. Now a research team employing state-of-the-art chemical imaging has found traces of the plumes’ ancient pigments. The new techniques might eventually tell scientists not only what colors prehistoric birds sported but also why they evolved highly pigmented plumage in the first place: here.