More bird mysteries unravelled in 2019

With Avian species shrinking in size, and North American continent losing a quarter of its birds were among the biggest discoveries

By   |  Published: 31st Dec 2019  6:59 pm

Revelations like bird species across the world are shrinking in size, and North American continent losing a quarter of its avians in the last 50 years, were among some of the biggest ornithology discoveries made this year

A myriad of worrying discoveries about birds were made in the year 2019 which unveiled the emerging struggles faced by our feathered friends in adapting to a warming world, while also shining new light on the fields of behavioural science, genetics, and avionics.

Revelations that bird species across the world are shrinking in size, and a major finding that the North American continent has lost a quarter of its avians in the last 50 years, were among some of the biggest ornithology discoveries made this year.

“The missing of about three billion birds since 1970 indicates the massive decline of biodiversity all over the world,” Asad Rahmani, former director of the Bombay Natural History Society said. Amidst these worrying discoveries, there were also some bird studies that offered useful insights for novel bio-mimetic aviation technology that mimics the behaviour of the birds.

Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania in the US developed an electronic circuit mimicking how barn owls determine the direction of their prey. The researchers found that the owl brain’s circuitry works in a specialised way to calculate direction based on when the signals from its two ears coincide, which helped develop a similar-working bio-mimetic circuit. The year also saw new research offering clues about the evolution of birds.

In a first-of-its kind study, published in the journal Evolution, researchers measured beak shapes of numerous modern birds, and assessed how the part is used by different species to eat various foods. The study found that many birds with similarly shaped beaks forage in entirely different ways, and on varied food types, showing that the link between beak shapes and feeding ecology in birds are more complex than previously thought.

In September, scientists discovered fossils of one of the world’s oldest bird species that lived about 62 million years ago, soon after the dinosaurs became extinct. According to the study, the newly-discovered Protodontopteryx ruthae was only the size of an average gull, whereas its descendants were some of the biggest birds to have ever flown, soaring with wingspans of more than five metres.

New understanding of the social life of many birds also emerged in 2019 — from secret mating rituals of some avians to ‘building blocks’ of their communication, which helped unlock mysteries of human language.