Bird studies: avian wing evolution, bat wings, and pigeons who read digital slides

If birds are on your brain this week of Thanksgiving, consider some of these delectable facts and feats of our avian friends.

Bird wing evolution

Researchers from the University of Texas in Austin challenged scientific beliefs that assume the way a bird species flies plays the primary role in the evolution of its wing shape. The researchers found that the shape of bird wings is influenced more by how closely related species are to one another than by flight style.

The study was published Oct. 7 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

And speaking of birds in flight…

Bat wings built for hanging

Compared to birds and insects, bats have heavy wings for their body size. Those comparatively cumbersome flappers might seem a detriment to maneuverability, but new research from Brown University in Providence, R.I. shows that bats’ extra wing mass makes possible a quintessential bit of aerobatics: the ability to land upside down.

The study was published Nov. 16 in the journal PLOS Biology.

And finally, birds on the ground—and in the lab….

Pigeons discern digitized slides

According to a new study from the University of Iowa and the University of California, Davis, with some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons performed as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue.  

The pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned, so that when the researchers showed them a completely new set of normal and cancerous digitized slides, they correctly identified them.

The findings were published Nov. 18 in PLOSOne.

Photo Credit: © iStock/jorgeantonio

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