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Natural Environment How Human History has been impacted by the environment, science, nature, geography, weather, and natural phenomena


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Old August 12th, 2017, 03:13 AM   #1
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The "first bird" controversy


We all believe that we know what a bird is...Yet, amazingly, birds have not been very precisely defined according to scientific principles. Although it is widely accepted today that the avians sprung directly from certain feathered theropod dinosaurs, palaeontologists have not yet succeeded in pinpointing the first true bird, nor even in universally specifying the anatomical and physiological features which constitute genuine birds.

ARCHAEOPTERIX was long considered to be the granddaddy of them all...But even a casual examination of the skeleton of this feathered creature reveals many un-birdlike features: a weak sternum, a snout instead of a beak, an anatomy far more similar to a theropod reptile than to a bird...The recent discovery of the remains of AURORNIS seemed to indicate, initially, that this tiny creature was the earliest of early birds; but it, too, lacks certain characteristics essential to true avians.

Well, I've done lots of research on this theme, I think we can now arrive at a rather precise definition of what "birdiness" is, and I have my personal choice of what was the first genuine bird...But I'd like to hear your opinions.

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Old August 12th, 2017, 04:27 AM   #2

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Yes, I agree that Archaeopterix is not the first bird. However, what criteria are you using to define "bird", it's potential earliest ancestors, in which case Aurornis or another Troodontid is a candidate or do we start at Pygostylia, or the first animal we can say is the modern Aves, and so leaping over various early birds such as Confuciusornis, Hesperornis and many others. By your use of "what was the first genuine bird", I presume you mean modern Aves, in which case a candidate to be the first modern bird we can positively identify is Austinornis lentus, basically an early chicken. Or do we go back as far as a basal, or near basal coelurosaur.

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Old August 12th, 2017, 04:43 AM   #3

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I thought Archeopterix was a Gaul.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 04:48 AM   #4

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Of course, if the earliest bird was a chicken, Gallus
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Old August 15th, 2017, 06:35 PM   #5
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You need to check out maniraptorans. Since birds are Avian-Dinosaurs. In fact I hate to say that there is no first true birds. Birds are not only directly linked to Maniraptorans. But evolved from them.
Here are the links.
Birds Evolved from Maniraptoran Dinosaurs: Study : Nature & Environment : Science World Report
Maniraptoran dinosaurs
What is Maniraptora?
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maniraptora

However! You need to check out Paleocene birds. Try it out my friend.
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Old August 15th, 2017, 07:12 PM   #6

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you're spelling it wrong. it's Archaeopteryx, with a Y (or Urvogel if you're German)
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Old August 16th, 2017, 12:05 AM   #7

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Yes, of course there is no answer at this point in time, and may never be.

An indication of the confusion about where some maniraptorans fit on the gladogram, and so their potential to be in, or close to the direct line, if there is one, that led to modern Aves, is shown in Fastovsky and Weishampel. Rahonavis is described as being a member of troodontidae, and then a little further on it appears on the cladogram just past Archaeopteryx [typos not allowed?] , under avialae. It is still not 100% clear if Rahonavis could in fact be a dromaeosaur, and Archaeopteryx, depending on what author you read, moves between being a dromaeosaur and part of avialae. At the moment it is generally regarded as just being a part of avialae, which came from.....

Maybe the closest it is possible to come, without going back further than maniraptora, is to say that any maniraptoran that could be described as being a member of paraves, but which cannot with confidence be put specifically into either of the two parts of deinonychosauria, and being earlier than Archaeopteryx, is a good contender. Rahonavis is later than Archaeopteryx so is not a contender, but is a good example of the difficulty of putting some of these maniraptorans into a specific group.
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Old August 16th, 2017, 02:05 AM   #8

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Surely the First Bird is Ivanka Trump.

Strictly non-politically.
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Old August 16th, 2017, 02:22 AM   #9
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Surely it depends on your definition of 'bird'?
As Dawkins keeps (correctly) pointing out our categories (bird, homo sapiens, homo erectus etc) are quite arbitrary divisions of creatures that changed gradually and continuously.
If there was a first bird, that would imply it was the offspring of something that was not a bird, which seems pretty unlikely.
Surely the most we can really do is note bird-like features developing in various species over time, say some are more like modern birds than others, but any definite line is more a matter of definition than of evolution.
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Old August 16th, 2017, 04:55 AM   #10

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Quote from Fastovsky and Weishampel

Q: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
A: The egg. But it wasn't from a chicken

It was just a slow progression, starting from a basal maniraptoran, and with different characters that we associate with modern Aves appearing over time and on different branches and twigs of the maniraptor tree. I'm sure that if Hesperornis had survived the extinction it would be classed as being fully a part of modern Aves, just that it had teeth. If any troodont had survived, they would be seen as just another type of bird. Huxley would have hardly even needed to point out the obvious connection between Archaeopteryx and dinosaurs, as a living Rahonavis or Hesperornis would be a there for all to see and compare to the fossils then coming to light.

I think some of the confusion is with the word "bird", and what we have traditionally seen as a bird, coming into conflict with the discovery that they are living dinosaurs. It is still too new for some to fully get their heads around, or if they do, then there are still old paradigms lurking in the mind. Within another generation there will be no confusions , except for the "bitter enders" still following the likes of Ken Ham.

But I agree with the comment above that it is a matter of definition. An ostrich is still a bird even though it cannot fly and is built to run, like it's distant ancestors. If Hesperornis and it's teeth were alive it would still be a bird, if any troodont, even the larger ones, were still alive, they would just be running birds with teeth and a sickle claw. They are simply all maniraptors of various flavors. The first maniraptor = the first bird = maniraptor.

Edit: While of course there are a number of characters that define modern birds, the kinetic skull, keeled breastbone and pygostyle as some examples, and are major adaptations and do differentiate them from deinonychosaurs and oviraptors etc, it does not make birds any less maniraptoran.

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