How birds of a feather evolved together


Citizen scientists have deduced how birds acquired a vast array of beaks over millions of years of evolution.

Bird enthusiasts joined forces with experts to investigate the beak shapes of birds from eagles to pelicans.

The study found there was a burst of evolution of different beak shapes early in the history of birds, soon after other dinosaurs died out.

The great diversity of beaks has long fascinated scientists, including the naturalist Charles Darwin.

While visiting the Galapagos Islands, Darwin discovered several species of finches that varied from island to island, which helped him to develop his theory of natural selection.

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Birds have become one of the most successful groups of living things on Earth since the extinction of their dinosaur ancestors 66 million years ago.

“This project has given us key insight into how evolutionary processes play out over millions of years – with major bursts of evolution as new groups emerge, and more fine-scale changes thereafter,” said lead researcher Gavin Thomas from the University of Sheffield.

“With the efforts of our volunteers from across the world, the study has given us a unique new data set for the study of bird ecology and evolution.”