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Study: Prehistoric birds could fly high

"Fossils such as this are allowing scientists to dissect the most intricate aspects of the early evolution of the flight of birds," said researcher Luis M. Chiappe.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Prehistoric birds could fly high
Some prehistoric bird species were capable flyers. Photo by Stephanie Abramowicz/NHM

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- The earliest bird species lived alongside the dinosaurs, but scientists continue to disagree on exactly how much flying these ancient birds were doing. New research may offer some clarity on the subject.

Analysis of an exceptionally well-preserved bird wing fossil suggests at least some ancient bird species were capable of the kinds of aerial maneuvers modern flyers perform. In other words, prehistoric birds could ascend to considerable heights, and once there, could swoop, dive, pitch and roll.

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The 125-million-year-old bird fossil was unearthed in central Spain and studied by an international team of scientists. The fossil revealed not only bone structure, but also the network of muscles. The soft tissue design convinced scientists the tiny bird likely possessed the wing-manipulation skills necessary to master the sky.

"The anatomical match between the muscle network preserved in the fossil and those that characterize the wings of living birds strongly indicates that some of the earliest birds were capable of aerodynamic prowess like many present-day birds," said Luis M. Chiappe, director of the Director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Chiappe is the lead author of a new paper on the discovery, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

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"The new fossil provides us with a unique glimpse into the anatomy of the wing of the birds that lived amongst some of the largest dinosaurs," added Chiappe. "Fossils such as this are allowing scientists to dissect the most intricate aspects of the early evolution of the flight of birds."

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