Bruce Museum Curator Daniel Ksepka has just 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.
According to the announcement, “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 discovered by Ryan and Taylor Williamson, the 11-year-old twin sons of paleontologist Tom Williamson, one of the co-authors of the research. The fossil belongs to a mousebird, which today lives only in Africa. The team named the new species “Tsidiiyazhi abini” (Cidy Ya Zee Ah bin ih), meaning “little morning bird” in Navajo.
About the size of a nuthatch, Tsidiiyazhi abini had evolved specializations of the foot that let it reverse its fourth toe to grasp branches better. Research shows that this feature, called “semi-zygodactyly,” evolved independently in many different groups of birds.
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– Georgette Gouveia