Published on October 8th, 2023 | by David Marshall
Episode 156: Bird necks
Whilst the evolution of feathers and flight might be seen as the greatest evolutionary innovation of the birds, the development of their wings precluded their forearms from holding many functions outside of flight. It is widely recognised that beaks are utilised as a ‘surrogate hand’, but if so, then surely the avian neck must function as a ‘surrogate arm’.
In this interview, we speak to University College London’s resident “neckspert™” Dr Ryan Marek. Ryan introduces us to bird necks detailing their anatomy, how they’re used, and what constrains their form and function. We end by craning our necks back to look up the vertebrate family tree to see when such specialised structures evolved.
This interview is based on Ryan’s recently published review article, freely available here: Marek 2023.
Parrots have even been demonstrated to possess ‘tripedal’ locomotion in specific circumstances. The force to move in such a way is generated by the neck. Courtesy and copyright of Young et. al. 2022.
Ryan demonstrates the flexibility of a gannet’s neck as controlled by just the ligaments on the dorsal side.