In recent years, new fossil discoveries have changed our view of the early evolution of birds and, more critically, their powers of flight. We now know about a number of small-bodied dinosaurs that had feathers on their wings as well as on their legs and tails: completely unique in the fossil record.
However, even in light of new fossil discoveries, there has been a huge debate about how these dinosaurs were able to fly.
Scientists from the University of Southampton hope to have ended this debate by examining the flight performance of one feathered dinosaur pivotal to this debate — the early Cretaceous five-winged paravian Microraptor. The first theropod described with feathers on its arms, legs and tail (five potential lifting surfaces), Microraptor implies that forelimb-dominated bird flight passed through a four-wing ('tetrapteryx') phase and represents an important stage in the evolution of gliding and flapping.