It might be hard to believe but the birds we see flying around our skies today are share their ancestory with dinosaurs! That's right, bird evolution is a complex process that's taken place over hundreds of thousands of years to bring us the wide array of feathered species we see today.
In this blog, we're going to take a deep dive into the history of birds, their ancestory and their evolutionary story. So, if you've been asking yoursef - what did birds evolve from? You're in the right place! Strap yourself in, we're heading back 115 million years to see where the evolution of birds started...
Discovering dinosaurs with feathers
When we think about dinosaurs, our minds are often taken to large, scaley reptiles. Palaeontologists have been researching dinosaurs for decades, but very little was known about the evolution of birds & their connection to dinosaurs until the 1960s. At this time, a dinosaur called Deinonychus was discovered; a small dinosaur that walked the earth around 115 million years ago. This intriguing species bears a lot of similarities to living birds today, it was intelligent, fast moving and covered in feathers!
This discovery really opened researchers eyes & encouraged them to look at the link between modern day birds and dinosaurs more closely. Lots of new research was carried out on old fossil specemins to help strenghten the connection between birds and dinosaurs. Using new technologies, palaeontologists were able to identify a plethora of features and behavious that both dinosaurs and modern birds share... how exciting!
A changing view of dinosaurs
While ninteenth century researchers may have found the notion of feathered, bird-like dinosaurs completely bizzare, but nowadays it's common knowledge that dinosaurs weren't necessarily the slow, intimidating reptiles that we once thought of. These new discoveries & modern depcitions of dinosaurs are showing us how closely dinosaurs and birds are related. The Dienonychus that's featured in the Natural History Museum features feathers, giving museum visitors a much more accurate idea of how these bird-like creatures would've looked 115 million years ago!
The earliest record of birds
The Deinonychus belonged to a group of dinoasaurs called Theropods. These were bipedal dinosaurs that ate meat and scowered the earth hunting for food. The famous Tyrannosaurus rex was also a Theropod... does that make you look at the birds in your gardens a bit differently?
Up until now, the earliest record of bird-like features that we saw in dinosaur fossils came from the Archaeoptryx (fossil shown above). When you see recreations of this dinosaur, you'll notice that it's almost indistinguishable from a modern day hawk or eagle. With new information being unearthed, researchers now believe that the evolution of birds was much more gradual than we first thought, starting with the Dienonychus several million years before the Archaeoptryx evolved.
Why did birds evolve?
Bird evolution follows a similar path to other stories of evolution. In the same way that giraffes developed longer necks to reach leaves high in the trees, researchers believe that some theropods like Dienonychus headed into the trees to search for better food or protection. Over time, they evolved into Archaeopteryx and other winged creatures to make the skies and the trees more accessible.
You might be wondering - why did birds become so much smaller, well the body size of theropods gradually decreased and we can only assume that the smaller, lighter and faster bird ancestors were able to survive more often than their larger bodied brothers and sisters. This led to the development of birds as we see them today!
So there you have it, a bit of an insight into the creatures that birds evolved from and their history spanning across the decades! We're amazed at the variety and beauty of modern day birds, so it's amazing to know that they've been growing and evolving alongside other species for as long as we can remember.
If you want to help the birds we see today continue to thrive, take a look at some of the nutririous bird foods we offer here at Really Wild Bird Food.
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