Modern Bird Lineage Began 67 Million Years Ago

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Asteriornis maastrichtensis, the world's oldest known modern bird, had a mashup of chicken-, turkey- and duck-like features. (Phillip Krzeminski)

At 67 Million Years Old, Oldest Modern Bird Ever Found Is Natural ‘Turducken’

by Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonianmag.com

Roughly 66.8 million years ago—not long before the end-Cretaceous extinction that wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs—a diminutive, quail-sized bird met an unfortunate and untimely end.

But the relatives of this pint-sized creature—a newly described fossil cheekily dubbed “Wonderchicken”—lived on, helping to seed the enduring, diverse lineage of birds that still fills the skies of the modern world.

Now the oldest known member of the contemporary branch of the avian family tree, Wonderchicken (formally Asteriornis maastrichtensis) could help today’s paleontologists better understand how birds weathered the extinction that purged three-quarters of all plant and animal species from the surface of the Earth. As such, the petite, ancient fossil represents “one of those great discoveries that come up a few times in a lucky lifetime,” Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a paleontologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study, tells Cara Giaimo at the New York Times.

Birds first showed up on the paleontological scene around 150 million years ago, making their debut with toothsome terrors like Archaeopteryx that likely resembled their more reptilian-looking dinosaurian ancestors, reports George Dvorsky for Gizmodo. Sometime during the Cretaceous, though, our feathered friends began to shed their teeth, bony tails and clawed wings ….read more:

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