Paleontology

What was the earliest known bird?
Answered by Discovery Channel
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    Discovery Channel

  1. Like the dinosaur, the oldest bird that's been discovered in fossil form has long been extinct. The Archaeopteryx, which lived 150 million years ago, is considered the earliest known bird. It had wings and claws and could climb trees, but it was also similar to a reptile due to its long, bony tail and tooth-filled jaws. From the Archaeopteryx fossils found in Bavaria in 1861, it was not clear whether it flew or if its wings allowed it only to glide. The early fossils of the creature lack evidence of a breastbone, which is what the wing muscles attach to in modern birds. However, an Archaeopteryx fossil found in 1992 showed evidence of a breastbone, so it's possible the ancient bird may have been capable of sustained flight.

    While it seems clear from its fossils that Archaeopteryx did have feathers, it may have just used them for insulation. It's possible that feathers were originally meant for this purpose -- body temperature regulation -- and later evolved to give birds the capability of flight [source: Berkeley].

    Because Archaeopteryx seems to have both avian and reptilian characteristics, some paleontologists see it as an important link between birds and dinosaurs. Others, however, say that bird fossils have been found predate the dinosaurs, showing that birds could not have descended from dinosaurs, and even suggesting that dinosaurs might have descended from birds [source: ScienceDaily]. As you can see, Archaeopteryx is the subject of much debate. Most do agree, however, that it is the oldest bird ever discovered in fossilized form.

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