Flightless Wings

There are three main benefits of flight that have allowed the world’s 10,000 species of birds to thrive:

  1. Flight enables a bird to search for food over a wide area
  2. Birds can fly to escape non-flying predators
  3. As the seasons change, birds can migrate to a more favorable location
Galapagos Cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi) Fernandina Island, Galapagos Islands. Ecuador. February.

Galapagos Cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi) Fernandina Island, Galapagos Islands. Ecuador. February.

On the island of Fernandina in the Galápagos Islands, food for the Galápagos Cormorant (above) is readily available in the rich shallow coastal waters, the bird has no predators, and the climate is suitable for year-round residence.

Consequently, over the last 3–5 million years, this bird has lost the ability to fly. Flight is energetically expensive and so selection pressure favored birds that did not fly.

The wings are not even used for swimming. This bird, which does forage underwater for fish, only uses its large webbed feet for propulsion.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT FLIGHTLESS WINGS

KIDS QUESTION: In the museum exhibit, we asked: What other flightless birds you can name?

The answer is: Penguins
Detailed Answer More than 40 species of flightless birds still survive. These include penguins, the rheas, the ostriches, and the kiwis. The most famous flightless bird (the Dodo) was driven to extinction in 1681 from the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean by hunting and introduced predators.