Keeping handy some older posts on bird evolution, as we address this in Ornithology class this week.

The Waterthrush Blog

In a story today by BBC Science Reporter Matt McGrath, paleontologists are debating the long-held view of Archaeopteryx lithographica as the “first bird.” At issue is the discovery of new birdlike fossils, notably Xiaotingia from China, that were very similar anatomically to Archaeopteryx but – and this is the part that interests me most – predate it in the fossil record. Xiaotingia is older than Archaeopteryx, dating back 155 million years ago to Archaeo‘s 150. Now this really is getting interesting.

I’ve written and lectured in the past about the degree to which we should consider the many feathered dinosaur fossils discovered in China as ancestral to modern birds. Despite the birdiness of those fossils, they were discovered in strata younger than Archaeopteryx, and were less well developed for powered flight. If Archaeopteryx is the oldest and most birdlike fossil, then the real ancestor of…

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