A STUNNING fossil of the earliest-known seed-chomping “perching bird” has been discovered in Wyoming.
The incredible discovery reveals the 52-million-year-old bird in exceptional detail – with its feathers still attached.
Most birds you’ll have seen are perching birds, also know as passerines.
Passerines make up about 6,500 of the 10,000 bird species alive today – but they weren’t always so common.
Now researchers have uncovered a “rare” perching bird that dates back 52million years in Fossil Lake, Wyoming, USA.
And details of the extremely well-preserved bird fossil have been published in the Current Biology journal.
“This is one of the earliest known perching birds,” said Lance Grande, curator at the Field Museum.
“It’s fascinating because passerines today make up most of all bird species, but they were extremely rare back then.
“This particular piece is just exquisite.
“It is a complete skeleton with the feathers still attached, which is extremely rare in the fossil record of birds.”
This Wyoming bird dates back to a period called the Early Eocene, more than 50million years ago.
It’s been named Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi, and is the earliest example of a bird with a “finch-like beak” – similar to sparrows and finches of today.
These thick beaks hint at what the bird may have eaten.
“These bills are particularly well-suited for consuming small, hard seeds,” said Daniel Ksepka, the paper’s lead author and curator at Connecticut’s Bruce Museum.
“The earliest birds probably ate insects and fish, some may have been eating small lizards.
“Until this discovery, we did not know much about the ecology of early passerines.”
Passerine birds are believed to have been quite rare 52million years ago.
However, researchers are said to have had “good luck” to live and die near Fossil Lake.
The area is known for having perfect conditions for fossilisation – and has produced dozens of impressive historical discoveries.
“Fossil Lake is a really graphic picture of an entire community locked in stone,” said Grande.
“It has everything from fishes and crocs to insects, pollen, reptiles, birds, and early mammals.
“We have spent so much time excavating this locality that we have a record of even the very rare things.
“Knowing what happened in the past gives us a better understanding of the present, and may help us figure out where we are going for the future.”
“I’ve been going to Fossil Lake every year for the last 35 years, and finding this bird is one of the reasons I keep going back.
“It’s so rich. We keep finding things that no one’s ever seen before.”
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