Doves or Dinosaurs?
August 31, 2021
By JIM MATTHEWS
Are we hunting doves or dinosaurs?
It’s a valid question on the eve of this year’s dove opener Wednesday, Sept. 1.
It’s pretty well settled science — at least as much as science is ever really settled — that all birds are really descendants of dinosaurs evolved into what we see and hunt today.
Over two decades ago, I remember reading an Associated Press wire story about the unveiling of several new bird-like dinosaur fossils in China that actually form a near-perfect evolutionary bridge between T-Rex and today’s hummingbird. I read the story three times, reveling in the adaptability of nature and use of feathers in the ever-changing environment.
Those 20-plus years ago, this news was still pretty much a revelation. It was when I first realized that dinosaurs were not extinct after all. A huge meteor or comet impact that sent clouds of dirt and ash exploding into the atmosphere, an impact that blacked out the sun for a long periods of time around much of the globe and radically altered the environment for millions of years to come, couldn’t wipe them out. Slower, more gradual changes in the earth’s temperature since, that led from ice-age to warm-age back to ice-age again, over and over, couldn’t wipe them out.
This is heartening even today. It tells of a resiliency of nature that is inspiring.
The AP story told of how some scientists believed that even T-rex might have worn a downy coat when young. There were early birds (late dinosaurs?) that had feathers that were not used for flight and then later bird-dinosaurs that were capable of some flight. There was puzzlement about how and why feathers were evolved, but it seemed so simple to me, as an observer of birds.
They were obviously used as insulation and regulation of body temperature, to heat when folded or held close, and to cool when fluffed and fanned. But they were also used for illusory purposes. They would be flared and lifted to make themselves appear larger to intimidate predators or challengers. They would be colorful to attract the opposite sex. They would be used to spook prey from cover — like today’s mockingbirds flare their wings, exposing the white wingbars suddenly.
If you are believer of evolution over intelligent design, flight was likely an accident. A dinosaur with heavily feathered arms would spook a smaller prey species from some brush, lung forward pulling the arms to its side and glide powerfully forward through the air to nab its prey. Those traits kept being passed on, and soon — in the sweep of time — there was a soaring bird who would suddenly fold it wings to its side and point its beak toward the earth below in a silent, lightning-like stoop that would end with flaring talons striking and piercing an unsuspecting jackrabbit. Accident? Or design?
You can believe what you want. I prefer romance over chance.
We have all heard that should the worst of mankind come to pass and we nuke the world into oblivion, only cockroaches (insects are the other great survivors) would be left. However, I suspect there would be dinosaurs still surviving. Some, two-legged, winged creatures flying in flocks will stalk those cockroaches on foot, flaring their wings to spook the insects from cover, and then spear them with their beaks. Perhaps these birds will again turn into giant Tyrannosaurus rex-type animals that will hunt giant, time-changed counterparts of dung beetles.
I have hunting chums who insist chukar will be the bird eating those cockroaches post-apocalypse. I prefer to believe it will be crows or mockingbirds, but it doesn’t matter much. They are all cut from the same cloth as a velociraptor — they are adaptable survivors.
Over the span of geologic time, mammals are newcomers, and humans existence here is not even a blip on the screen, yet. So holding the first dove of the season in your hand opening day, I want you to think about vast sweep of the past and the future of life on this planet as you hold that bird. As you smooth his feathers and think of bacon-wrapped dove breasts, know that you are holding the first dinosaur of the season.
Perhaps our dominance of the planet right now is our species’ “five minutes of fame,” and we will be gone before a million more years have passed. I, however, want to believe that we will still be here a million years from now, hunting and farming on the ever-changing earth, the most adaptable of any species ever, and marveling and chronicling the latest permutations of those amazing dinosaurs.
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Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.