Fossil Toe Prints Evidence that Big Birds Lived Alongside Dinosaurs

Nov. 13, 2013

Bird TracksA pair of fossilized footprints discovered by an Emory paleontologist are thought to be Australia’s oldest known bird tracks. The thin-toed prints were pressed into a sandy riverbank more than 100 million years ago, according to Anthony Martin, professor of practice in the Department of Environmental Studies. Martin specializes in trace fossils, including those of tracks, burrows, and nests.

“These tracks are evidence that we had sizeable, flying birds living alongside other kinds of dinosaurs on these polar, river floodplains, about 105 million years ago,” according to Martin.

The tracks were likely made by two individual birds that were about the size of a great egret or small heron. Rear-pointing toes helped distinguish the tracks as avian, as opposed to a third nearby fossil track that was discovered at the same time that were made by a theropod, a two-footed non-avian dinosaur.

Martin added that a long drag mark on one of the two bird tracks particularly interested him: “I immediately knew what it was—a flight landing track—because I've seen many similar tracks made by egrets and herons on the sandy beaches of Georgia.”

An analysis of the footprints written by Martin and his colleagues at Monash University and the Museum Victoria in Melbourne appear in a recent issue of the journal Paleontology. The story was also picked up by a number of other publications. 

To read about Anthony’s findings in Science Daily, click here.

To read about the findings on NBC News, click here.

To read the research paper in Paleontology, click here.

Photo Credit: Anthony Martin

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