Birds as a study system: Birds are a diverse and successful class of vertebrates with exceptional locomotor agility and ecological range. Although birds are most noted for prowess in flight, they are also adept terrestrial bipeds, with a 230-million-year legacy inherited from theropod dinosaurs. Most modern birds rely on bipedal locomotion for at least part of their life.
Much of our research focuses on ‘ground birds’ as exemplar bipedal athletes. These include Galliformes (such as quail, pheasant and guinea fowl) and Ratites (such as emus, rhea and ostriches). We often study guinea fowl, because they are excellent bipedal athletes and easy to handle and train for locomotion research.
Ground birds use striding bipedal gaits (walking and running) that share similar movement features, energetic patterns and limb-substrate force characteristics as human walking and running (See a review here: Daley and Birn-Jeffery 2018). Study of bipedal locomotion in ground birds provides opportunity to investigate how body size, leg morphology and terrain environment influence how animals move.