Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Bigmouth strikes again

I love animals, but for the most part I'm not that bothered by birds. Birds of prey are generally a bit more interesting, with their air of arrogant menace. I appreciate the beauty of feather patterns and colours. The mechanics of flight are fascinating. Chicken sandwiches are nice. And so on. For me, though, the most interesting thing about birds are their origins. These things are what we have left of dinosaurs, and it's easy to overlook that. Take a closer look at an ostrich, for example, and you can start to picture its reptilian ancestry.

All that said, some birds stick out as being worthy of a bit more attention. Pelicans for example. Who doesn't have a soft spot for pelicans? They have been in the news a lot recently for unfortunate, oily reasons, but I saw an article on the BBC site about a fossil pelican that caught my attention. The main point of the article is that the 30 million year-old fossil is pretty much the same as modern species. News! Pelicans stay the same for a long time! It is reasonably newsworthy, though, as changes in most bird morphologies have been considerable in that time. This shows that either the pelican has found the perfect form for its niche or it has reached an equilibrium point where the compromise of flight and flappy-jowled beak has proved difficult to get beyond. Whatever the reason, it looks like the pelican has found a good ecological spot and is sticking with it. Now we just have to stop drenching them in oil.

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