Fossil shows birds rapidly diversified after dinosaurs demise

Fossil shows birds rapidly diversified after dinosaurs demise

Palaeontologists have announced a very important discovery of a new species of fossil bird in New Mexico.

The fossil is important because it is the oldest tree-dwelling species among modern bird groups.

It lived just a few million years after the dinosaurs went extinct. Because of its place in the arboreal crown, the new species shows that birds radiated explosively in the aftermath of the Cretaceous mass extinction, rapidly splitting into different forms to pursue a variety of diets and lifestyles. Dr Daniel Ksepka, curator at Bruce Museum said Tsidiiyazhi abini was a very special little bird for several reasons.

”It is very old, very small, and had zany little feet” he explained.

“The age is between 62.2 and 62.5 million years, just a geological blink of the eye after the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.”
About the size of a nuthatch, T. abini had evolved specialisations of the foot that let it reverse its fourth toe to better grasp onto branches. Research shows that this feature, called “semi-zygodactyly”, evolved independently in many different groups of birds. This feature  allowed T. abini to turn its body completely about-face, a feature seen with modern owls.

Fossil bones of Tsidiiyazhi abini, a 62.5 million year old fossil representing the oldest arboreal species of crown bird.

The bones were found by 11-year-old twins Ryan and Taylor Williamson (the sons of palaeontologist Tom Williamson, one of the co-authors of the research). Surprisingly, the fossil belongs to a mousebird, a type of bird which today lives only in Africa.

The team that included scientists from the Bruce Museum, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science named the new species Tsidiiyazhi abini.

Species Name

The species name is derived from the Navajo language. Pronunciation of the genus name “Tsidiiyazhi” is similar to “City-Ya-Zee”, but with more of a “d” than “t” sound in the “city” part. Pronunciation of the species name “abini” is “Ah-bin-ih”.

The name translates to “little morning bird”, referring to its tiny size and the evolution of this bird early in the Palaeocene.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Main Image: Life reconstruction of the Tsidiiyazhi abini. The new species name is derived form the Diné Bizaad (Navajo) words for “little morning bird”. (Credit: Sean Murtha)

Source: Bruce Museum

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