Research highlight

Evolution: Ancient bird sticks its big beak into the evolutionary record


November 26, 2020

The fossil of a previously unknown species of bird with a large, deep beak reminiscent of a modern toucan’s beak is reported in a paper published this week in Nature. This specimen, which lived during the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar about 100–66 million years ago, suggests that ancient bird beaks were much more varied than previously thought.

Birds from the Mesozoic era (250–65 million years ago) had a broad range of different body sizes and behaviours. However, the shapes of their beaks were thought to be relatively similar. Patrick O’Connor and colleagues describe the fossil of a new, crow-sized bird named Falcatakely forsterae, which challenges that notion. This bird has a long, deep beak, which is markedly different from other birds common during the era. Its upper jaw was expansive and had small teeth at the very tip. The bony elements of the beak, along with its three-dimensional shape, demonstrate the development of a facial anatomy that is similar to that of modern birds, while retaining a cranium and upper jaw that is similar to that of non-flying theropods.

The authors conclude that Falcatakely forsterae illustrates the diversity of bird beaks during the Mesozoic era.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2945-x

Return to research highlights

PrivacyMark System