Are Birds Dinosaurs? [Yes! Learn The Fascinating Story!]

are birds dinosaurs

It may surprise you to learn that birds are actually dinosaurs. True, they’ve evolved significantly, but that doesn’t dispute the fact that birds are the only true living remains of the dinosaur age. In fact, birds aren’t just descendant from dinosaurs, they are dinosaurs.

Common-day birds evolved from a group of meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods. This group includes the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex among many others. Much research has been conducted into dinosaurs and their relationship to today’s animal population and the findings are truly interesting.

Let me share some of the more interesting facts with you.

Archaeopteryx: The Earliest Known Bird

For a very long time, it was believed that Archaeopteryx was the earliest know bird and the only bird-like dinosaur. This dinosaur lived around 150 million years ago in the Late Jurassic era.

The fossil found by paleontologists depicts that this creature had a mixture of avian and reptilian features. It was first discovered in Germany in 1860. It’s considered a transitional species in the evolutionary process from dinosaur to bird.

It’s believed that this “bird” weighed between 1.8 to 2.2 pounds which is similar in size to a raven. Its wings were broad and it had a long tail. Fossils also indicate that the bird has feathers on its body and legs.

Of course, we can’t know for sure, but paleontologists believe that this dinosaur had the ability to fly due to the shape of the wing and tail feathers.

More Recent Discoveries Go Back Even Further

In 2009, fossils were found in China of a bird-like dinosaur that dates back between 161 and 151 million years ago. This fossil was named Anchiornis huxleyi. It has well-developed feathers on all of its four limbs. As a result, it’s speculated that these dinosaurs had four wings.

Then shortly after, another fossil of a feathered dinosaur was again found in China. This one was named Haplocheirus sollers and dates back around 160 million years. This dinosaur belongs to a group called alvarezsauriod which are thought to have been flightless birds.

Then, of course, there’s the discovery of Mei long, a fossilized skeleton of a non-avian ceolurosaur that was also discovered in China. It was found with its head tucked under its forelimb, much like what you would see in a sleeping bird that tucks its head under its wing. This fossil was dated back to around 130 million years ago.

Other Bird-Like Dinosaur Discoveries

Some other examples of bird-like dinosaurs include:

  • Caudipteryx zoui. This fossil was found in China and dates back 130 to 122 million years ago. This dinosaur had a tail plume and the rest of its body was covered with short primitive feathers. There were also longer feathers on its arms and tail.
  • Sinosauropteryx prima. This was another fossil found in China dating back 130 to 122 million years ago. The fossil was discovered in 1996 and was, in fact, the first non-avian dinosaur discovery that had feather-like structures.
  • Sinornithosaurus millenii. This fossil was also found in China and dates back 130 to 122 million years ago. It had a rigid tail and powerful feet claws. It was also one of the first dinosaur discoveries that had feathers.
  • Confuciusornis. These fossils were described in 2013 and found in northeastern China. They date back around 125 million years ago. Apparently, these fossils indicated the presence of a beak and long tail feathers. From this we can start to see how dinosaurs were starting to evolve into the bird species that we see today.

Common Characteristics Shared By Both Early And Modern Birds And Coelurosaurs

Both early and modern birds share a number of characteristics with coelurosaur dinosaurs. These include:

  • Feathers
  • Hollow bones or bones with thin walls
  • A wishbone
  • Modified forelimbs or shoulders that can be folded up against their bodies
  • Modified wrists that can rotate
  • Walking on two legs with their legs directly underneath their bodies
  • Laying eggs
  • Use gizzard stones to grind up food
  • Well developed respiratory systems that includes lungs and multiple air sacs

What About Velociraptors?

You might be familiar with the Velociraptors that were depicted in Jurassic park. These dinosaurs did have feathers although, they couldn’t fly. Various fossils have been found that showed quill knobs on the wing bone.

All of these discoveries have led scientist to believe that dinosaurs were more bird-like than they were reptilian as was first believed.

Were Dinosaurs Warm-Blooded?

We know that birds are warm-blooded but what about their ancestors? From scientific research, it is believed that dinosaurs were warm blooded. The evidence that leads to this conclusion is both the growth rate of their bones and their insulated covering.

From cutting up bones, it’s believed that these grew quite quickly. Much faster than the bones of reptiles. There is also evidence of insulating feathers on theropods. Of course, we understand that in today’s birds, these feathers help them to regulate their own body temperature, an indication that they’re warm-blooded.

How Birds Have Evolved

Obviously there’s a huge evolutionary difference between the bird-like theropods and the modern birds that we see today. This evolutionary process, which has taken over 66 million years, has been studied by scientists for centuries and certain observations have been made.

  • The ability to fly was probably one of the first steps in their evolution. This would have started with the small bones in the dinosaur’s hands becoming fused to support the wings.
  • Then, more specialized flight features would have developed, such as an elongation in the breastbone and development of powerful pectoralis muscles. This would help these birds to be able to control the up and down strokes of their wings.
  • Of course, there was also the loss of teeth and the formation of the beak.

How Did Bird-Like Dinosaurs Develop Powered Flight?

Again, this can only be conjecture because none of us can know for sure as humans weren’t around when that happened. However, scientists believe that flight was first discovered by tree-climbing animals that learned to glide from tree to tree or from the branches of trees down to the ground.

It’s believed that it’s much easier to develop flight by gliding down from a height rather than trying to develop flying from the ground up.

Why Were Bird-Like Dinosaurs The Only Ones To Survive

Around 66 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, a huge asteroid struck the planet. This resulted in a dust cloud surrounding the earth and blocking out the sun. As a result, there were enormous climatic changes in which plants died and volcanoes erupted.

As a result, all non-avian dinosaurs became extinct. The only ones that remained were the species of bird-like dinosaurs. So, why did these dinosaurs survive and evolve into the birds we know today? Scientists have derived three main reasons for this:

  • These bird-like dinosaurs were quite small. In fact, they were no bigger than ducks. And, it’s a common fact that small creatures breed faster than larger ones. This means that these animals could adapt much faster to the changing environment. Being smaller also meant that they didn’t need to consume as much food as their larger dinosaur cousins did. This meant that as food became scarce, these small dinosaurs could still find enough to eat to survive.
  • They have a wide food source. As you know, birds have a very varied diet from seeds and grains to nuts, insects, berries, fruits, fish and even small reptiles. To adapt to the changing food sources, early birds developed many different beak shapes.
  • They had the advantage of flight. It takes less energy to fly over long distances than it does to walk. This meant that these bird-like dinosaurs could easily escape bad conditions such as erupting volcanoes and flowing red-hot larva.

As you can see, birds are capable of adapting to their environment like no other creatures on earth. Consider that there are over 11,000 different species of birds on the planet that live in virtually every location found on earth. No wonder they are survivors.

Final Thoughts

Although you might find it hard to believe at first, birds are actually dinosaurs. In fact, they’re the only surviving dinosaur species that have evolved over 66 million years. It’s fascinating to think that the little hummingbird visiting your feeder or the crow that’s sitting on the power line in front of your house are actually dinosaurs.

And, there’s plenty of scientific evidence to back this up. By analyzing and studying ancient fossils that have been found around the world, paleontologists have discovered many characteristics that are shared by ancient dinosaurs and the modern birds of today. These include feathers, walking on two legs, laying eggs and brooding their young.

So, next time you’re out bird watching or spending some time sitting near your backyard feeder to see which species comes to visit, understand that you’re actually looking at a dinosaur disguised as a bird.

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