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Afossil showing the first evidence of flight in birds has been found by archaeologists in Spain. The fossilised animal - the size of a goldfinch - lived in the Cretaceous era, at the same time as the dinosaurs. It is the earliest discovered with an "alula" - a flap of feathers at the front of the wing, which is essential in modern birds for low-speed flight and manoeuvring.

The findings, announced yesterday in the scientific journal Nature, indicate that "as early as 115 million years ago, birds had evolved a sophisticated structural system that enabled them to fly at low speeds and to attain high manoeuvrability," said the Spanish researchers. The new bird, named Eoalulavis hoyasi, offered another surprise - a full stomach. "Crustacean remains found inside its belly also provide the oldest direct evidence of feeding habits in birds," said the researchers. Charles Arthur