About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Feathers developed as a form of communication not flight

Were feathers used originally as a form of communication and not for flight? A new theory is that when feathers first formed on dinosaurs they were used more for flashing and waving to impress and attract potential mates.  

In Canada, fossilized bones of an ornithomimid dinosaur preserved evidence of fossil feathers that could not possibly be used for flight. Debates began on the purpose of feathers if not for flying, like protection from the elements, help to nestle eggs, threaten predators or attract mates.

Because the juvenile ornithomimus had a thin, downy coat and the adults had bigger, showy feathers, scientists believe that the wings were used for purposes later in life, like reproductive activities, such as courtship displays.

Richard Prum, an expert on birds present and past at Yale University, says recent discoveries do suggest that feathers were some kind of signal. "The idea is that these were for communication," says Prum, "and that's fascinating, because we recently have new evidence that the feathers of dinosaurs were pigmented, and perhaps pigmented very boldly, so that already implied that there was a communication function for early feathers."

In fact, Prum says the need for dinosaurs to "look hot" had some important consequences for today's birds. "The evolution of attractiveness or beautiful traits may have had an important role in the origin and early diversification of feathers," Prum says.

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Sources: 
- Science - www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6106/510
- University of Calgary - http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/releases/october2012/first_feathered_dinosaurs

Related articles:
- Types of Bird feathers http://goo.gl/W9rzP
- Why Birds don't Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter: http://bit.ly/mPa0Y8
- How small birds stay warm in the winter: http://bit.ly/q3dDqj  
- Why birds molt: http://bit.ly/ox5Hwi
- Blue Jays aren't blue: http://bit.ly/pMN37k
- Fossils of colored feathers: http://bit.ly/nc2UeA

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