The world's first birds all had four wings -- not two -- and flew with a similar construction to the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk plane, contends new research led by the renowned dinosaur and early avian hunter Xing Xu.
Xu, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team suggest this perhaps might be the simplest form of flight, as even the Wright brothers' first experiments with flight were done with a biplane in 1903.
As for how this system in birds evolved, Xu told Discovery News, "The first birds descended from four-winged dinosaurs, which are not necessarily gliders in the strictest sense."
One such dinosaur might have been Microraptor, a non-avian dino that had feathers on both its arms and legs. Paleontologists believe it could fly.
The researchers studied well-preserved fossils of 11 birds from at least four diverse groups dating from about 150 to 100 million years ago. All of the birds were found in the Jehol formation in Liaoning, northeastern China.
The ancient birds were found to have clumps of stiff leg feathers that resemble wings. Xu and his colleagues believe these were, in fact, wings, according to the study, published in the journal Science. He said they "either provided lift, or created drag, or enhanced maneuverability or a combination of all of these functions."