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Keywords:

  • bird;
  • claws;
  • geometry;
  • scaling;
  • Archaeopteryx

Abstract

The claw geometry of birds can be used to predict their mode of life. Previous studies, however, have not considered how bird size might affect these predictions. Thus, in the present study, the geometric scaling relationships of bird claws are examined for a variety of extant birds with different modes of life: predatory, climbing, perching or ground-dwelling. Measurements of hind-limb claw radius (i.e. claw size) and claw angle (i.e. claw ‘hookedness’) of the third digit claw were made on 120 species of bird ranging from 0.0057 kg to 44 kg in body mass. Claw radius was found to be proportional to (body mass)0.34 across all species. Claw angle was found to increase with body mass for predatory and climbing birds (i.e. bigger birds have relatively more hooked claws), and decrease with body mass for ground-dwelling birds (i.e. bigger birds have relatively less hooked or flatter claws). No significant relationship was found between claw angle and body mass for perching birds. Mode of life could not be predicted with any certainty using measurements of either claw radius or claw angle, suggesting difficulty in assigning fossil species such as Archaeopteryx to a specific locomotor category. As claw design should enable the claw to withstand the forces placed upon it, further work is needed to establish the stresses experienced by the claws of different types of bird.