Hummingbird Ancestor Reveals Evolution of Its Unique Flight


Despite being closely related, hovering hummingbirds and gliding swifts evolved markedly different wing shapes and flight characteristics, ruffling the feathers of scientists trying to understand when the birds’ lineages diverged.

However a newly identified fossil of the birds’ common ancestor is helping paleontologists piece together the shared past of swifts and hummingbirds. The fossil — that of Eocypselus rowei — is notable particularly for the preservation of its feathers, making reconstruction of the wings far more accurate than from skeletal remains alone.

E. rowei, found in the fossil-rich Green River Formation in southwestern Wyoming, lived 50 million years ago and was less than five inches long from head to tail.

Like hummingbirds and swifts, the small bird had a notably stout humerus, or upper-arm bone. According to a reconstruction based on its bones and feathers, however, E. rowei’s wing shape differed from both of its modern relatives. The wing represents an intermediate shape between the two, suggesting the Pan-Apodiformes lineage evolved a small body shape first before splitting into different wing shapes and flight characteristics, according to findings published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Written By: Gemma Tarlach
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  1. I learned a few things about hummingbirds after I saw one nearby on Christmas day.

    1. they cannot survive just on nectar. They need insects as well.

    2. they are extremely competitive

    3. they can survive freezing temperatures. When you see them hanging around in winter, they are surviving on insects.

    4. they need a huge number of calories just to stay alive.

    5. Some migrate across the Gulf of Mexico, a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles, which takes 18-22 hours.

    To fly the way they do, they must have simultaneously developed a high calorie diet.

  2. They’re one of the first signs of Spring here in Southeast Alaska. And even though it snowed just this last Tuesday, they’ve been around a couple weeks already. Purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) along the beaches are one of the first bloomers around here.

    Many years ago a little hummer (Selasphorus rufus) was found/caught locally and brought to the raptor center. No, it’s not what you think. Not feeding time for a bird of prey! When people don’t put away their feeders in late summer, some birds linger, perhaps, longer than they are supposed to. It was feared this bird would not be able to make the migration south.

    Alaska Airline miles were collected, the hummingbird was booked and was subsequently flown to Seattle on a regularly scheduled 737 to be released a thousand miles closer to its winter feeding grounds.


  3. There are amazing videos from Discovery channel on ” Feather evolution ” & ” Dinosaur to bird evolution ” on Youtube djarm67 channel

    Might it be possible to reverse engineer the Emu to look more like it’s dinosaur ancestor ? The film claims that early in the chick embryo there is the potential for a 15 vertebra long tail like archaeopteryx had, also teeth buds can be seen in the beak, also birds have many features in common with dinosaurs- their scaled reptilian legs etc

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