Eighty-five million years ago, a seabird called Ichthyornis (which means “fish bird”) lived and died over the ocean that covered Kansas and much of central North America. With well-developed wings, hollow bones, and a body roughly the size and shape of a tern’s, Ichthyornis looked like modern birds and was clearly capable of flying. However, odd features like teeth illustrate the bird’s dinosaurian ancestry. A new study featuring Sternberg Museum fossils collected in western Kansas (and co-authored by the Curator of Paleontology, Dr. Laura Wilson) reveals just how similar and different Ichthyornis was to living birds. This research sheds new light on the details of its skeleton and supports previous hypotheses that Ichthyornis is very closely related to modern birds. The bones of forty different fossil specimens were studied, making these birds one of the better-known fossil bird species. With so many individual specimens, paleontologists can now start answering questions about how Ichthyornis lived its life and evolved as the Age of Dinosaurs came to a close.
This research was published in the open-access journal PeerJ and is available to anyone interested in reading more.