As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Monday 18 March 2013

Two Fossil Bird Finds Raise Questions

Two fossil bird finds are in the news in March, after important finds were announced in Peru and in China. Klaus Honninger, the head of a team of paleontologists in Peru, revealed Friday that a giant 35 million year old pelicanlike bird had been discovered in that country’s Ica desert.

The bird, found on March 6, was singled out as special because it was well-preserved enough to clearly show traces of the ancient skin. The Oligocene-era pelican would have stood over 6-1/2 feet tall, and it was found in a coastal area rich in whale, shark, and penguin fossils.

Honninger is a well-regarded fossil hunter who has made big discoveries in Peru before, including the first Peruvian skeleton of a Megalodon shark species in 2006 and 16-million year-old skull of a Kentriodon whale species.

The other fossil bird find, from China, is a tad more problematical. Dan Evon first reported on the discovery for The Inquistr on Thursday, after Chinese paleontologist Xing Xu went public with his claim that he’d found the fossils of four-winged birds.

To some eyes, including this perhaps somewhat cynical writer, what he actually found was fossils of birds with the normal complement of wings, along with heavily feathered legs.

And it doesn’t help that Chinese bird fossils in general, and Xing Xu in particular, have something of a history of oversell. In 1999, National Geographic was the victim of an outrageous fossil bird hoax, the so-called Archaeoraptor which was purported to be the missing link between modern birds and meat-eating dinosaurs.

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