On average, avian genomes are about 70% smaller than mammalian genomes. So what’s missing? Birds have very little intergenic material—noncoding DNA between the regions of the genomes that code for proteins.  They also have fewer repeated genes and fewer c
In order to get a good picture of how birds evolved, researchers compared their genomes with the genomes of their closest living relative, the crocodile. Dinosaurs, crocodilians, and birds are all archosaurs. After sequencing three different crocodile spe
One of the long-standing questions about the evolution of birds is how their vocal learning faculty evolved—did it arise only once, or once in each of the vocal learning groups: hummingbirds, songbirds, and parrots? It turns out that vocal learning has ar
Most modern birds have four color receptors in their eyes, making them tetrachromatic. This means they can see a wider range of the light spectrum than trichromatic humans and most other mammals. Among birds, penguins were the odd ducks—they’ve lost a col
It was long thought that the traits of predatory birds such as the falcon and the eagle arose twice in different parts of the bird family tree. Instead, according to the newly redrawn bird tree, all land birds descended from a single apex predator, but mo
Birds’ beautiful plumage gets color and texture in part from proteins called β-keratins. When scientists looked at the different birds groups, they found that water birds have the fewest types of β–keratins; land birds have about double that number; and d
Using comparative genomics, researchers found that the common ancestor of all modern birds lacked mineralized teeth and that birds lost their teeth about 116 million years ago. There are about 15,000 toothless bird species in the world, but just a few too

Slideshow: Untangling the bird family tree

Luckily for birds, they survived the mass extinction event that killed most of Earth’s dinosaurs. Four bird lineages lived through the catastrophe and over the next 66 million years, these feathered dino descendants radically expanded and diverged into the approximately 10,500 species living today. Because of their rapid early expansion, the relationships between modern birds have been incredibly difficult to tease out. Now, with 48 bird genome sequences in hand, researchers report online today in Science that they have finally been able to untangle some of the toughest thickets in the bird family tree. The slideshow above gives a tour of what scientists have learned from analyzing this amazing array of bird DNA.