Birds Had to Relearn How to Fly After Asteroid Killed the Dinosaurs, Study Suggests

Friday, 25 May 2018 - 11:07AM
Friday, 25 May 2018 - 11:07AM
Birds Had to Relearn How to Fly After Asteroid Killed the Dinosaurs, Study Suggests
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Image credit: Phillip M. Krzeminski/University of Bath

Ever wonder why living dinosaur birds like the emu and ostrich are still around today?


According to a new study of fossil records from New Zealand, Europe, Japan, and North America by an international group of natural history and biology researchers, the asteroid extinction event that killed off most non-avian dinosaurs also wiped out forests around the world. No trees meant no homes for flying birds, so they all died while their non-flying cousins survived on the ground.

"Looking at the fossil record, at plants and birds, there are multiple lines of evidence suggesting that the forest canopies collapsed," Regan Dunn of the Field Museum in Chicago told The Guardian.


"Perching birds went extinct because there were no more perches."


It took a relatively long time for the trees to grow back, so the birds got used to using their legs and not their wings.


"The ancestors of modern tree-dwelling birds did not move into the trees until the forests had recovered from the extinction-causing asteroid, said co-author Daniel Field of the University of Bath. "Only a handful of ancestral bird lineages succeeded in surviving the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, and all of today's amazing living bird diversity can be traced to these ancient survivors." 

So that means that at one point (actually over the course of many years) some birds had to relearn how to fly while others stayed close to the ground, their wings becoming vestigial.


So the next time you shame a penguin or kiwi for not taking flight, remember that it's that damn meteor's fault.


If it hadn't struck our planet all those centuries ago, maybe we would have gotten to live out our Flintstones fantasies and would be flying giant birds instead of riding in killer automated cars.

Science News