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Prehistoric Bird Roundup

February 16, 2007

Two new discoveries shed light on the ancestors of modern birds.


A bird biplane. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Birds are direct descendents of dinosaurs, and fossils of small, feathered reptiles have been known for over a century. One of these, called microraptor gui, had not two but four wings—its hands and feet had long flight feathers. A new analysis of the tiny dinosaur reveals that it may have oriented these wings with one pair atop the other, like a World War I biplane.

In other prehistoric bird news, the gigantic flightless terror bird, Titanis walleri, had a huge hawklike head and enormous claws. Fossils of the bird have been found in Texas in fairly new earth strata, and for many years scientists thought the bird lived as recently as 10,000 years ago, along with humans. But using a new dating technique, University of Florida scientists now believe the fossils are two million years old—long pre-dating modern humans.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.