Study: Birds evolve shorter wings to survive highway traffic

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, March 18, 2013 14:03 EDT
google plus icon
A cliff swallow. Photo: Shutterstock.com.
  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Email this page

Cliff swallows that nest in highway overpasses have evolved shorter wingspans over the last 30 years to help them survive close encounters with highway traffic, according to a new study in scientific journal Current Biology.

The conclusion was reached by Charles Brown, a University of Tulsa researcher who’s spent the last three decades picking dead birds off roadways, New Scientist noted.

Brown particularly noticed a sharp decline in roadkill in southwestern Nebraska since the 1980s, even as cliff swallows were building nests near highways in record numbers. After extensive studies of dead birds recovered from Nebraska highways, Brown spotted the trend: mortality went down as more of the birds were born with shorter wings.

The swallows’ shorter wingspans enable greater mobility in flight and faster take-offs. It’s also possible that it gives them an advantage when hunting insects, which could explain why more shorter-winged birds were better able to survive unusually cold weather.

Photo: Shutterstock.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
By commenting, you agree to our terms of service
and to abide by our commenting policy.