- A primitive seabird that prospered about 85 million years ago along the warm, shallow inland sea that once split North America boasted what scientists are calling a surprising blend of traits from its dinosaur ancestors and modern avian characteristics.
- Four new fossils of Ichthyornis, which had both a beak and teeth and lived a lifestyle like modern gulls, offer striking evidence of this Cretaceous Period bird’s important position in avian evolutionary history.
- While Ichthyornis fossils were first unearthed in the 1870s, the new ones from Kansas and Alabama chalk deposits, including a beautifully preserved skull, reveal far more about it than previously known.
- Ichthyornis was the size of a tern, with a two-foot (60-cm) wingspan, and probably ate fish and shellfish. It shared the skies with flying reptiles called pterosaurs when dinosaurs dominated the land.
- Toothed birds vanished along with the dinosaurs and many other species after an asteroid impact 66 million years ago.
- Fossils like those of Ichthyornis and Cretaceous toothed diving bird Hesperornis were cited by 19th century naturalist Charles Darwin as strong support for his theory of evolution.
- Birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs. Unlike the earliest-known birds like Archaeopteryx, which lived 150 million years ago, Ichthyornis was a strong flier, its body streamlined, simplified and adapted for flight like modern birds. Its primitive characteristics were largely in its skull.
- While older primitive birds like Confuciusornis, from 125 million years ago, sported a beak, the small one on Ichthyornis was the first known to have modern attributes like a “pincer tip” for grasping, pecking and fine manipulation.