January 24, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

News for the Birds

Our amazing feathered friends range from tiny hummingbirds to fast-running ostriches, from penguins to pigeons.  In both living and fossil forms, they provide endless opportunities for study and fascination.  Here are a few recent examples of news for the birds, in both good and bad connotations of the phrase.

Amazing FactsStar Wars goshawks:  Fast-moving goshawks and some other species zip through the forest like the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field or speeder bikes in the forests of Endor, never crashing into tree trunks.  According to New Scientist, a team at MIT has calculated a theoretical speed limit at which they are guaranteed to crash.  “The team believe that birds avoid this fate by gauging the density of their environment and adjusting their speed accordingly, knowing that they can always find a gap to fly through,” the article states.  Like skiers looking for the openings in front of them, “This allows a bird to fly much faster than if it just relied on the limits of its vision.”  Researcher Emilio Frazzoli believes mimicking this strategy would allow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fly faster through obstacles without having to add more sensors.

Don’t pass up the stunning video clip on Live Science.  It’s a literal bird’s-eye view of a goshawk, “the master of maneuverability,” flying through the forest at high speed.  The bird banks left and right, pulls in its wings, spreads its tail and flies effortlessly between tree trunks, threading the smallest gaps in a split second.  “No aircraft invented comes anywhere close.

Optical illusion bowerbirds:  Male great bowerbirds spend a good deal of their 30-year lifetimes building elaborate ground nests called bowers to attract hens.  Two Australian scientists have figured out that the winning males are the ones who create the best optical illusions of a type called forced perspective.  The bowers have a tunnel-like entry that leads to the nuptial chamber.  Live Science reported that the male bowerbirds adorn the entryway with shells and pieces of bone, and “arrange items in such a way that the court appears uniform and small to a female viewing it from within the avenue, which makes the male appear much larger and more impressive than he really is.”  They put the large pieces at the end of the tunnel farther apart to make the tunnel look uniform.  If the pattern is disturbed, they will put things back the way they were.  The best illusionists got the best sex.  According to the researchers, this is the only known case of an animal using an optical illusion to attract mates.

The study by Kelley and Endler was published in Science magazine (20 January 2012: Vol. 335 no. 6066 pp. 335-338, doi: 10.1126/science.1212443).  Barton Anderson in the same issue of Science (pp. 292-293) was not ready to concede that the link between bower illusions and mating success has been proved: “Have male bowerbirds mastered the laws of perspective and learned to manipulate them to achieve lascivious ends?” he asked.  “Although this possibility is intriguing, the current data are not yet sufficiently rich to sustain this remarkable hypothesis.”  In the Live Science article, John Endler commented, “it’s amusing to think that forced perspective was invented by bowerbirds millions of years before humans.  Bird art has a bigger history than human art.”  He did not explain why the females didn’t figure out the trick in those alleged millions of years.  The BBC News article has a good photo of a bower and the bird, but reporter Ella Davies made the odd comment that “Although this is the first time such a display has been positively linked to mating success, Dr Kelley believes the trick could be employed across the animal kingdom.”  In all the studies on sexual selection since Darwin, no one ever examined this idea before?  We already know this capability can be found in humans.  Look at the movies; John Wayne had movie sets built to a smaller scale so that he would “appear much larger and more impressive than he really is.”  Whether that was the cause of his having four children has not been established.

Pigeon-monkey IQ competition:  Birds can do math, Live Science reported last month.  “Pigeons may not be so bird-brained after all, as scientists have found the birds’ ability to understand numbers is on par with that of primates.”  Pigeons are not alone in IQ power; crows can make tools by several steps (4/20/2010), and Clark’s nutcrackers can remember thousands of places where they have stashed seeds (2/17/2004).  Damien Scarf’s work on pigeons shows that the birds can use numerical rules to count up to nine.  It was a puzzle to him how such distantly related animals as pigeons and rhesus monkeys could have evolved this capability independently.  “What’s the origin of the ability?” he asked.

Pigeon puzzle:  “What we found through this study is that birds that are only distantly related to each other can have very similar traits, and others that are very closely related to each other can look quite different in terms of their traits.”  That’s what biologist Michael Shapiro [U of Utah] is trying to figure out with pigeons, according to Science Daily.  The traits don’t always match the genetics.  Why?  He notes that Charles Darwin was fascinated with pigeon breeding, and that the variations achieved by artificial selection were formative in his notions of natural selection: “pigeons have an important place in the history of evolutionary thought,” he said.  Pigeons are among the most diverse animals known; they “differ in color, color pattern, body size, beak size and shape, structure of the skeleton, posture, vocalizations, feather placement and flight behavior.”  Shapiro’s genetic findings could help humans understand alleged racial characteristics, too: “the race categories we use are quite imperfect and there is a lot of overlap genetically between populations,” he said.  “So there would be many instances in which a black person would be more similar to some white people than to other black people.”  Science Daily echoed these sentiments.

Black Archaeopteryx:  One would think by now that everything that could be said about one of the world’s most famous fossils, Archaeopteryx, has been said already in the 150 years since its discovery.  Opinion has swung back and forth about whether this feathered creature could fly.  Now, PhysOrg reported, Ryan Carney and colleagues at Brown University, using a scanning electron microscope on a fossilized feather found in 1861, have determined that the flight feathers were black, and were “identical to modern bird feathers down to the smallest detail” (see Carney say this in the embedded video interview).  The melanosomes in the feathers that give the black color provide clues to answer one of the main questions about this creature: “The color and parts of cells that would have supplied pigment are evidence the wing feathers were rigid and durable, traits that would have helped Archaeopteryx to fly.

Tweety ClickBoth PhysOrg and Live Science insisted on calling these birds “winged dinosaurs,” even though it would require believing that “that completely modern bird feathers evolved as early as 150 million years ago” as if out of nowhere.  Carey believes the feathers “would have been advantageous during this early evolutionary stage of dinosaur flight,” even though he admitted in the video clip that the “origin of birds and flight is something scientists have been debating for centuries.”  He admits being fascinated by Archaeopteryx as a child, learning to view the fossil as a “missing link” or “transitional form” between dinosaurs and birds, but now his own research on the feathers shows them being identical to those on modern flying birds.

SEQOTW DarwineLike bacteria in milk or bird droppings on the windshield, these otherwise fascinating scientific stories about birds are defiled by evolution-ese.  Look at this sentence from the PhysOrg article on Archaeopteryx: “The team also learned from its examination that Archaeopteryx’s feather structure is identical to that of living birds, a discovery that shows modern wing feathers had evolved as early as 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period.”  Does everyone see how crazy that sentence is?  It makes absolutely no sense unless one is drunk on Dar-wine.  They are asking us rational, reasonable, common-sense members of the public to believe that modern feathers popped into existence 150 million years ago, and either were not used for flying (incredible that evolution would produce a complex flight feather for running along the ground) or were used for flying (incredible, considering all the hardware and software required to go along with flight), and didn’t evolve ever since in terms of basic structural plan.

Do you realize how complex feathers are, with precisely-interlocking barbs, barbules and hooks, providing lightweight yet strong surfaces for flight? Feathers are completely different from reptile scales.  We must stop letting the evolutionists spew forth their opinions as scientific facts and use some basic logic.  Carey and his Dar-wino friends did not watch feathers evolve 150 million years ago.  They found a perfectly modern flight feather in German limestone.  That is the science; the rest are bald assertions of Darwinism (B.A.D.).  Common sense requires filtering scientific evidence from corrupt interpretations drawn out of (or in spite of) the evidence.  Now, watch that video of the goshawk speeding through the trees again and enjoy it free of polluting notions.

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