Taxonomy term

bird

Earliest bird-like lungs found in China

Before birds took to the air, a number of anatomical features evolved that allowed them to get off the ground. While many of these features were skeletal adaptations that have been well-documented in the fossil record, when exactly the large-volume lungs needed to power flight developed has long been a mystery. But the recent discovery of a unique fossil bearing a significant amount of preserved soft tissue, including lung tissue, has shed light on how early birds adapted to breathe in flight.

26 Feb 2019

An asteroid redirected bird evolution

When an asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago, it helped wipe out all the dinosaur lineages save one: the birds. But birds didn’t completely dodge the cataclysm the asteroid triggered. Recent research suggests that forests around the planet were devastated. With forests gone, bird species that called trees home went extinct alongside their nonavian dinosaur cousins. This means that the birds that we see living in trees today evolved from lineages that, in the aftermath of the impact, were ground-dwelling.

30 Aug 2018

Early birds quacked

Researchers have found the oldest-known avian voice box from an ancient bird that lived more than 66 million years ago. Scientists found the vocal structure, called a syrinx, while examining the fossil remains of a specimen of Vegavis iaai, a Late Cretaceous diving bird similar to modern ducks and geese. The finding suggests that the prehistoric bird may have “quacked” like modern ducks, says Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the new study in Nature.

27 Jan 2017

Seeds may have saved bird-like dinosaurs from extinction

About 66 million years ago, nearly three-quarters of life on Earth, including all species of nonavian dinosaurs, were wiped out. However, a few species survived the mass extinction event, including the Neornithes, the ancestors of modern birds. A new study suggests they may have done so by relying on seeds when other food sources were scarce.

04 Aug 2016

Owl pellets bridge ancient and modern ecosystems

In Homestead Cave near Utah’s Great Salt Lake, owls have been regurgitating pellets containing the undigested bones and hair of prey — typically small mammals like rodents — at a relatively constant rate since the end of the Pleistocene glaciations about 13,000 years ago. Those pellets have stacked up and fossilized in the cave to present a near-continuous glimpse into how mammal communities in this part of the Great Basin region have changed over time. Now, paleontologists examining bones in the pellets have found that, although small mammals in the region have generally been able to adapt to shifting ecosystems in the past, today, in the face of landscape-altering human activity, the mammal population is changing in unprecedented ways.
25 Oct 2015

First fossilized bird of another feather found in Brazil

Delicate bird bones and feathers aren’t easily preserved as fossils, and most known examples of Cretaceous birds and feathers come from a few sites in northeastern China. An exquisitely feathered bird fossil found recently in the Araripe Basin of Brazil is the first to be discovered in South America, putting the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana on the map of early avian evolutionary history.
 
12 Oct 2015

Oldest birds unearthed in China

The discovery of two well-preserved fossils in the Sichakou Basin of northeastern China has pushed back the known evolutionary record of birds by as much as 6 million years, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
 
24 Aug 2015

De-evolving the bird beak

The transition from dinosaurs with snouts to birds with beaks was a pivotal change in the evolution of dinosaurs into birds during the Late Mesozoic. Now, biologists have partially reversed this process by transforming chicken embryos into specimens with snout and palate configurations similar to those of small dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx.
 
21 Aug 2015

A terribly low voice for a new terror bird

A recently discovered fossil skeleton is giving paleontologists a nearly complete look at a new species in the family of big-beaked giants known as “terror birds.” Thought to have grown as tall as 3 meters, these flightless birds roamed South America as apex predators before going extinct about 2.5 million years ago.
 
12 Aug 2015

Bird genomes untangle branches of avian family tree

Birds, the only surviving descendants of dinosaurs, have one of the most fascinating — and perplexing — family trees in the animal kingdom. To sort it out, an international collaboration known as the Avian Phylogenomics Project has sequenced the genomes of dozens of different bird species, representing all the orders in the bird family. Even with a glut of new data, however, many questions remain about the branches of the avian family tree.

 
22 Apr 2015

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