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New species of fossil bird discovered in New Mexico

Bruce Museum Curator Dr. Daniel Ksepka has published a research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science announcing the discovery of a new species of fossil bird in New Mexico.

New species of fossil bird discovered in New Mexico
Artist’s rendering of Tsidiiyazhi abini [Credit: Sean Murtha]
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.

The bones were found by 11-year-old twins Ryan and Taylor Williamson, the sons of paleontologist 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 named the new species Tsidiiyazhi abini.

New species of fossil bird discovered in New Mexico
Fossil bones of Tsidiiyazhi abini, a 62.5 million-year-old fossil representing the oldest 
arboreal species of crown bird [Credit: Thomas Stidham]
About the size of a nuthatch, Tsidiiyazhi abini had evolved specializations 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.

The species name is derived from the Navajo language and translates to “little morning bird,” referring to tiny size and the evolution of this bird early in the Paleocene.

Source: Greenwich Post [July 10, 2017]

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