Are birds dinosaurs?
It’s a question you may have heard or asked before. Evidence points to birds being descended from dinosaurs, specifically theropods, a group that stands on two legs, like the T. Rex and velociraptors.1 Many theories about the link between birds and dinosaurs have been explored. As more fossils are discovered and our technology gets better, paleontologists are able to develop new theories.
A fossil discovered in Germany was originally thought to be the first bird. It’s called Archaeopteryx and it’s from 150 million years ago.2&3 The fossil showed that this animal had feathers and its body structure suggested it could fly. It also had fingers that looked like claws at the tips of its wings.3 However, further study and discoveries of other fossils caused Archaeopteryx to be reclassified as a dinosaur, instead of a bird.4 However, it remains an example of the possible bridge of evolution between dinosaurs and birds.2
Originally it was thought that birds made the jump from dinosaurs quickly. The opposite is now believed to be true. Dinosaurs seem to have already had many traits that are common to birds today, and once the evolutionary leap was made into the first birds, they began to change rapidly. For example, the birds we know today are very similar in appearance to embryos of dinosaurs.1 Plus, research has found that the areas of the brain that are responsible for sight, flight, and advanced memory in theropod dinosaurs were on the same level as birds today.5 Fossils have also shown that some dinosaurs had talons and bone structures that are very similar to birds.6
This points to the idea that birds adopted already-existing characteristics and adapted to their environment as needed. They began to get smaller and smaller at a rate much faster than dinosaurs were getting bigger. This shows that there was probably something in their environment that helped smaller birds survive better than bigger ones.1 They continued to evolve and develop characteristics that made them specialized in flight.3
The evolution between birds and dinosaurs was so gradual and seamless that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where and when they completely separated from each other.7 As further research is done, we learn more about both of these animals, but it’s clear they have an interesting link to each other.
When we think of dinosaurs, one of the first things that comes to mind is most likely movies like Jurassic Park, where they're the ultimate predator. Meanwhile, Barn Owls are the ultimate predator to rodents like voles. Watch our video here on how owls are the perfect hunter!