The Birds

The Birds January 23, 2019

 

Nice-looking homing pigeon
A homing pigeon, or a velociraptor?  (Wikimedia Commons)

 

A piece in the 13 December 2014 issue of the Economist reported on an article that had just been published in Science.

 

It seems that a major research project had just recently sequenced the genomes of 48 different species of modern birds, showing that the Neoaves, the biological “clade” that contains 95% of modern bird species (though not chickens and ducks), “arose in a spectacular burst of evolution and diversification just a few million years after the asteroid strike” roughly 65 million years ago that killed the dinosaurs off.  But it didn’t kill them all off:  The study also appears to demonstrate what scientists had long theorized — namely, that most of our birds descended from the theropods, a category of two-legged dinosaurs that, among others, included Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

Next time you find yourself watching the sparrows on your lawn or the hummingbirds vying for domination of your bird feeder, think about that.  And shiver.  Maybe Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds wasn’t so far wrong, after all.

 

***

 

Granted, Alaska then wasn’t like Alaska now.  But, still, it was scarcely tropical:

 

http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/b2f0ca3a594644ee9e50a8ec4ce2d6de/Article_2015-09-22-US-Alaska-Dinosaur/id-ffb2704d3ee64a3e894acab9b682d786

 

The notion that some dinosaurs may have been more bird-like, even more mammal-like, than we’ve long imagined is very interesting.  It’s certainly not what I was taught, back in my dinosaur-loving childhood.

 

***

 

Certain atheist readers of my blog like to portray me as somebody who hates and fears science, and who, when he pays attention to the subject, uses it only in an exploitative way to elicit “wows.”

 

I am, one person wrote to me just a couple of days ago, a “science denier.”

 

These folks are profoundly wrong with regard to that accusation, of course, but, with the claim that I see science as a source of wonder, they come several light years closer to the truth than they commonly do:  I do think that much about the universe and the natural world is perfectly astounding.

 

This article might supply you with one or two more such astonishing facts:

 

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/27/499635084/this-bird-can-remain-airborne-for-10-months-straight

 

If so, I’ll be pleased.  But I still won’t hate science, or fear it.

 

And I find this pretty amazing, too:

 

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2016/09/19/pigeons-can-distinguish-real-words-from-gibberish/#.V-KpxGW0zdm

 

But there’s a lot of pretty stunning material coming out about the surprising intelligence of birds.  For example:

 

“Crows Understand Analogies”

 

“Crows Have Human-Like Intelligence, Author Says”

 

“Crows are as intelligent as CHILDREN: Study reveals birds are as clever as a seven-year-old human”

 

And this slightly long but fascinating piece (which, unfortunately, contains two absolutely unnecessary f-bombs):

 

“6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Think”

 

 

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