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=START=   XMT: 04:47 Wed Jul 31  EXP: 04:00 Sat Aug 03
Newly found bird fossil shows how flight evolved
    LONDON, July 31 (Reuter) - Scientists said on Wednesday they had
discovered an "exquisitely preserved'' new fossil that shows the first
evidence of aerodynamic flight in birds.
    The newly identified bird, about the size of a goldfinch, lived
115 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs
ruled the earth.
    Jose Sanz, palaeontologist at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid,
working with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, found
the bird at a site near Cuenca in central Spain.
    The fossil provides evidence of the oldest known alula or "bastard
wing,'' Sanz's group wrote in the science journal Nature.
    "The alula is essential in modern birds for low-speed flight and
manoeuvrability,'' they wrote. The flap of feathers delays stalling
and is used on take-off and landing.
    The new bird is the earliest one found with an alula. No evidence
of one has been found in the earliest true birds including
Archaeopteryx, which indicates they flew clumsily and probably had to
take off from trees or cliffs.
    The findings indicate "that, as early as 115 million years ago,
birds had evolved a sophisticated structural system that enabled them
to fly at low speeds and to attain high manoevrability.''
    The new bird, named Eoalulavis hoyasi, offered another surprise --
a full belly. "Crustacean remains found inside its belly also provide
the oldest direct evidence of feeding habits in birds,'' Sanz wrote.