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The fossil record of early birds is very incomplete because their bones are so fragile and don't fossilize well. Also, feathers don't fossilize very well, so no one really knows what these extinct birds looked like; these reconstructions are based on educated guesses.
Below is a listing of some extinct, early birds.
Archaeopteryx (meaning "ancient wing") is a very old prehistoric bird dating from the Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. It had teeth, feathers, three claws on each wing, a flat sternum (breastbone), and a long, bony tail.
Diatryma were human-sized, heavily-built, flightless birds that date from the Tertiary to the early Eocene (38 million to 2 million years ago). They were about 7 feet (2.1 m) tall, had thick legs with clawed feet, tiny wings, and huge, powerful, hooked beaks on a big head. They were probably carnivores (although there is some controversy about this) and perhaps the top predators in what is now western Europe and North America, in an environment that was a tree-covered plain. They nested on the ground. The small, fast, carnivorous mammal Cladosictis may have driven it to extinction by eating its eggs and chicks. Diatryma gigantea was named by paleontologist E.D. Cope in 1876 from a New Mexico fossil. (Subclass Neornithes, Order Gruiformes)
The largest bird that ever lived. This flightless bird is extinct, but it lived in New Zealand until the early 1800's.
Eoalulavis was the earliest bird that had good maneuverability while flying, even at low speeds (this extra flight control is obtained from a tuft of feathers on the thumb called the alula - it also helps in takeoffs and landings). Fossils have been found in Spain.
Hesperornis (meaning "western bird") was an early, flightless bird that lived during the late Cretaceous period. This diving bird was about 3 feet (1 m) long and had webbed feet, a long, toothed beak, and strong legs. Although it couldn't fly, Hesperornis was probably a strong swimmer and likely lived near coastlines and ate fish. Fossils have been found in North America .
(pronounces eye-BER-oh-mes-OR-nis) Iberomesornis (meaning "Iberian=Spanish intermediate bird") was a small, early, toothed bird that lived during the early Cretaceous period. It was capable of powered flight. It had tiny, spiky teeth in its beak and was the size of a sparrow. Its hip was primitive compared to modern birds; its ilium, ischium, and pubis were all parallel and directed backward. Iberomesornis was named by paleontologists Sanz and Bonaparte in 1992. Fossils were found in Spain. The type species is I. romeralli.
Ichthyornis (meaning "fish bird") were 8 inch (20 cm) long, toothed, tern-like, extinct bird that date from the late Cretaceous period. It had a large head and beak. This powerful flyer is the oldest-known bird that had a keeled breastbone (sternum) similar to that of modern birds. It lived in flocks nesting on shorelines, and hunted for fish over the seas. Ichthyornis was originally found in 1872 in Kansas, USA, by a member of paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh's Yale University expedition. Fossils have been found in Kansas and Texas, USA and Alberta, Canada. (Subclass Odontornithes, Order Ichthyornithiformes)
(pronounced mon-NON-i-kus) Mononykus (meaning "single claw") was a small, insect-eater from the Late Cretaceous period, about 72 million years ago. Mononykus was either a bird-like dinosaur (an advanced theropod) or a primitive bird; it possessed qualities of both groups of animals, and there is much scientific debate over which it is. Mononykus had short arms with one long, thick clawed finger on each hand (hence its name). It was lightly built, had long, thin legs, and a long tail. Mononykus was roughly 28 inches (70 cm long). A fossil was found in SW Mongolia in 1923 (and originally called Mononychus). Mononykus was named by Perle, Norell, Chiappe, and Clark in 1993. The type species is M. olecranus.
(pronounced pat-ah-GONE-eh-kus) Patagonykus (meaning "Patagonia claw") was a lightly-built meat-eater with a single, clawed finger on each hand. It was about 6.5 ft (2 m) long. It had long legs, a long tail, and short arms. Patagonykus lived during the late Cretaceous period, about 90 million years ago. Patagonykus was either a bird-like dinosaur (an advanced theropod) or a primitive bird; it possessed qualities of both groups of animals, and there is much scientific debate over which it is. Patagonykus was similar to Mononykus. Fossils were found in Patagonia, a region of southern Argentina. The type species is P. puertai. Patagonykus was named by paleontologist F. Novas in 1996.
Phororhacos is a genus of long-extinct flightless birds that were about 5 feet (1.5 m) long. It had long, sturdy legs, short wings, a large skull, a large, heavy body and a large beak. This carnivore may have eaten small mammals, probably killing them with its beak and legs. It looked like an ostrich with a larger head. It lived during the Oligocene Epoch, about 30 million years ago. Fossils have been found in Patagonia, South America. (Subclass Neornithes, Order Gruiformes)
Protoavis (meaning "first bird") is an extinct diapsid from the late Triassic period (80 million years earlier than Archaeopteryx). Its partly toothless jaw and keel-like breast bone were like those of birds. It also had a tail, dinosaur-like rear legs, and hollow bones. There is some dispute about whether this animal was a bird or a dinosaur; the answer depends partly on whether the Protoavis fossil belongs to one or two different genera. Fossils have been found in Texas, USA.
Teratornis (meaning "monster bird") was an early condor-like bird. This giant, extinct predator had a wingspan of roughly 16-25 feet (5-7.6 m). This carnivore (meat-eater) dates from the Pleistocene epoch, about 1.8-.01 million years ago. Classification: Class Aves, Order Ciconiformes, Family Teratornithidae (teratornis), Genus Teratornis, species merriami and incredibilis.
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