Tag Archives: Eocene

Perplexicervix microcephalon Mayr

This species was described in 2010, it is known from five or six specimens found in the Messel shale, five of which include cervical vertebrae which again all bear strange small tubercles unknown in any other bird dead or alive.

The bird may or may not be related to the so-called screamers (Anhimidae), it had a quite small head compared to its body and had very large and strong wing bones, thus apparently was good at flying, its feet have short toes which appear to have been somewhat flattened – and my gut feeling tells me that they may have had been webbed ….

a humble reconstruction, note that I forgot to draw the halluces (big toes) onto the feet
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Vanolimicola longihallucis Mayr

This species was described in 2017, it is one of the many birds from the Messel shale, that are somehow related to living ones but on the other hand again … are completely different.

This one is thought to be related to the Charadriiformes, and it may indeed have been a member of the jacana family (Jacanidae).

a reconstruction, which turns out very much jacana-unlike

BTW: I only recently learned that the age of the Messel shale spans from the upper Early – to the lower Middle Eocene.

So not every bird from there is from the Middle Eocene.

The fossil record of birds from the James Ross Basin, West Antarctica

You may know that I’m a bit obsessed with the birds of the Paleocene era, partly because we know so much of a nothing about them, especially about those from the Early Paleocene, the beginning of the “T-time”, the time immediately after the K/T extinction event.

Now, there’s now a new paper out that is somewhat a review of the birds that existed at around exactly this time, the K/T boundary … on the continent of Antarctica to be more precicely, but also beyond that time up to the Oligocene. [1]

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I have not yet read it completely, but since nearly all bird fossils from that area are limited to single bones or sometimes partial skeletons, it does not shed so much new light on the previous records.

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References:

[1] Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche; Piotr Jadwiszczak; Julia A. Clarke; Marcos Cenizo: The fossil record of birds from the James Ross Basin, West Antarctica. Advances in Polar science 30(3): 250-272. 2019

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edited: 25.07.2019

Finch-like non-finches

Here we have the two species of finch-like passeriform birds that had been described at the beginning of this year, Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi and Eofringillirostrum parvulum, both from the Eocene, the first from North America, the second, smaller species from Europe.

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Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi Mayr, Ksepka & Grande

This is the larger of the two known species, reaching about 10 cm in length, it also is the older one, having lived in the Early Eocene about 52 Million years ago in what today is Wyoming, USA.

This is what I call a pre-sketch, or a working sketch, it’s just the very first step in reconstructing a fossil bird, in which this particular species is drawn in a simple side-view, usually smaller than life-size.

Eofringillirostrum parvulum Mayr, Ksepka & Grande

This bird may have reached a length of only about 9 cm, it lived in the Middle Eocene of what today is the State of Hesse in Germany.

I sketched it together with a reconstructed infructescence of Volkeria messelensis Smith, Collinson et al., a plant from the family Cyperaceae that was growing around the Messel lake, and whose seeds may indeed have been eaten by this presumably seed-eating bird.

Eopachypteryx praeterita

This is an effort to paint on the new, smooth paper that I now are about to use … I don’t know, I’m not so happy with all that, but I have quite heavy headaches right now, so, who knows, I’m not that concentrated at the moment.

Anyways, this is Eopachypteryx praeterita, a fossil bird from the Messel shale of Germany with no known relatives, neither extinct nor extant.

I’ll probably change the colors and … hm, anything else.

Pumiliornis tessellatus Mayr

Pumiliornis means as much as “dwarf bird”, and with that, all has been said.

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No, not so fast ….

The genus/species was described in 1999 and is, to my knowledge, so far known from three skeletal finds, of which one even contains the remains of its last meal, namely pollen.

All in all, Pumiliornis tessellatus resembled today’s sunbirds (Nectariniidae) or the sunbird-asitys (Eurylaimidae) in being very small and having an elongated beak. Its beak, however, was quite unlike those of the members of the beforementioned two families, it resembled the beak of a plover (Charadriidae), especially its narial opening (nose hole), which was rather slit-like and not round.

Pumiliornis was apparently a flower-visitor that fed on nectar and pollen (as is known from the content of the gut of one specimen), however, it may not have been specialized to that diet and may also have taken insects and other small invertebrates.

The bird was small, very small, in my reconstruction it reaches a length of only 7,5 cm, this size, however, is of course depending on the length of its tail feathers, which unfortunately are not preserved in any of the known specimens. I’ve reconstructed the bird with a rather short tail, which may some day turn out to be completely wrong, who knows.

The feet corresponded to the typical scheme of recent passerine birds, i.e. they have three toes pointed forward and one towards the back. However, the feet appear to have been facultative or semi-zygodactyl, which in turn means, in simple terms, the first toe usually pointed forwards, but could be held backward when needed.

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The genus/species cannot be assigned to any living bird family, not even an order, but is now known to belong to the extended Passeriformes-orbit, which in addition to the passerine birds also includes the falcons (Falconiformes) and the parrots (Psittaciformes). In fact it is now known to have been a member of the extinct family Psittacopedidae, that apparently also contains other unusual genera like Morsoravis, Psittacopes and the recently described, very interesting Eofringillirostrum and probably others too.

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Finally, it should be mentioned that this bird was not a dwarf spoonbill, as claimed by a certain person.   😉

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References:

> Gerald Mayr: Pumiliornis tessellatus n. gen. n. sp., a new enigmatic bird from the Middle Eocene of Grube Messel (Hessen, Germany). Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg. 216: 75-83. 1999
> Daniel T. Ksepka; Lance Grande; Gerald Mayr: Oldest finch-beaked birds reveal parallel ecological radiations in the earliest evolution of Passerines. Current Biology 29: 1-7. 2019

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edited: 27.06.2018; 08.02.2019

Avian Musings – blog post from January 23, 2019

In his great blog (that I actually – and that’s no lie – look into at least once a week), Paul Cianfaglione writes about many bird-related things, including fine book reviews, very interesting insights into bird anatomy and everything else.

But his latest post is just unbeatable: he did make an extremely close inspection of a bird fossil from Messel that he owns.:

Messel Bird Fossil offers unique feather preservation, and more” from January 23, 2019

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I personally have never seen close-ups of a bird fossil that are so razor-sharp and detailed!

And his bird shows features not known in any living bird – at least not all of them together in one bird.:

The beak is very big and hooked like the beak of a bird of prey or a owl, and it appears to have had sensory pits, the body feathers appear somewhat hair-like, the wing coverts are fluffy, also probably somewhat like the feather edges of recent owls, and the primaries have extremely strange appendages not known in that way from any other bird, living or extinct, but somewhat reminding on the wings of a waxwing.

What kind of a bird was that?

Well, I could try to do a reconstruction, should I?

That is just a doodle, maybe I have more time tomorrow to make a complete drawing.

Gosh, this is so exciting!   🙂

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Take 2.:

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Take 3.:

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edited: 26.01.2019; 27.01.2019