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KILLING WITH YOUR WINGS



It is not true that all birds use their wings that weapons: many 
battle with beaks and/or feet instead, never using their wings. 

Basically, birds use the best weapons they have.. for 
examples, while nuthatches (sittids) and woodpeckers (picids) may jab 
with their reinforced bills (there is a famous photo of a nuthatcher 
jabbing a Great tit (_Parus major_) on the head. Ouch!), gamebirds 
(galliforms) will kick with their (sometimes spurred) feet while 
waterfowl (anseriforms) employ both tough, biting bills and powerful, 
sometimes spurred or knobbed, wings. Pigeons (columbiforms), not 
equipped with either powerful beaks or feet, whack each other with 
their wings. That was not meant to be an exhaustive list BTW.

Combat in starlings (_Sturnus vulgaris_) is a free for all, with 
wings, beaks and feet all being bought into play. I mention it so I 
can state the grisly fact that they actually try to pierce either 
other's brains with their claws, going in via the eyes. I have seen 
photos of dead specimens locked together in this manner.

Rachel Clark, our snarling and untamed she-raptor, wrote..

> I was doing some research on the extinct birds of the Mascarene 
> Islands and I came across an account of Rodriguez solitaires using 
> their wings as clubs --rather, their wings WERE clubs.  Just an 
> interesting tidbit.

_Pezohaps_, the solitaire (the animal to which Rachel 
refers), is well known for being markedly sexual dimorphic (as was 
_Raphus_ in fact - unpublished data). Both sexes were equipped with a 
rounded ossification on the medial side of the carpus which is about 
pea-sized in females but more or less 5 cm wide in males. I believe 
the 18th C observers of these birds likened these ossifications to 
musket balls, and described their employment in combat. That they 
were used in combat is also evidenced by the fact that they were 
often cracked while the bird was alive. *Whack* *whack*. Having 
observed some extant pigeons (_Columba oenas_) in wing-to-wing combat 
I'm sure _Pezohaps_ in action would have been quite awesome.

One major factor in _Pezohaps_ extinction was the preying by 
introduced rats, cats, monkeys etc. on _Pezohaps_ eggs and babies. 
Now, extant birds equipped with _Pezohaps_-style carpal knobs (e.g. 
the South American steamer ducks), often kill other animals for.. 
well, for fun it seems. There is thus the possiblity that, in the 
deposits of Rodriguez, we might one day find a dead kitty cat that 
had been hammered to death by _Pezohaps_ wing knobs. Sounds like a 
cue for a life restoration to me Rachel:)

"I could buy a lot of toys with that"

DARREN NAISH
darren.naish@port.ac.uk