The origin of flight has been a subject of intense scientific interest for centuries. Some scientists believe it started with animals running fast and flapping their arms to get a little lift; others believe that early flyers climbed a tree and leapt into the air, gliding gently to earth. These two camps are well-entrenched in their positions—with not much middle ground. But the speaker at our April meeting, Dr. Ken Dial, of the University of Montana, has developed another, competing, hypothesis. In his research, Ken has observed that some bird species, and especially the baby birds, use their wings and feet in ways that allow them to climb steep slopes. The way they flap their wings helps press their feet against the surface they are climbing, and so the birds can quickly get off the ground and into a tree to escape a predator. When Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, one question he was asked was “what use is half a wing?” Dr. Dial has shown that, for baby birds with their small, partially developed wings, half a wing is, in fact, really quite useful.
Dr. Dial will describe the ecology and evolution of baby birds. The meeting will be in the Gallagher Business Building, room 123, at 7:30pm on Monday April 8th.
Dr. Ken Dial is Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Montana. He received his PhD in Zoology from Northern Arizona University, and then went on to a post-doctoral Fellowship at Harvard. He was instrumental in creating UM’s Field Research Station at Fort Missoula, and making it one of the foremost bird research labs in the country. His work has appeared in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, and he has had over 60 papers published in other scientific journals. Ken hosted the show “All Bird TV” which ran for 29 episodes on Animal Planet. Last year he gave the keynote speech at the Society of Experimental Test Pilots’ Symposium.