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    Prehistoric bird once plied Saskatchewan's waterways

    NewsBird NewsFriday 20 April 2012
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    Meet the Brodavis americanus: a species of prehistoric aquatic bird - resembling loons with sharp teeth - that dipped into the rivers and lakes of Saskatchewan as late as 65 million years ago.

    Fossil findings from Grasslands National Park in southwestern Saskatchewan prove there is a strong connection between this newly discovered species and the province, a recently published paper in the journal Palaeoworld illustrates.

    ``From about 100 million years to ago to about 70 million years ago, these birds were identified with inhabiting the Western Interior Seaway - the seaway the essentially split North America in half - primarily living near coastal or more deep water,'' said Tim Tokaryk, curator of paleontology for the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. He, along with Kansas University's Larry Martin and the late Evgeny Kurochkin of the Russian Academy of Science, wrote the report.

    ``The fact that they adapted to living outside that niche, outside of the marine system into rivers and streams is a major shift in their adaptation and the fact that these birds may have retained the ability to fly since their early ancestors were foot-propelled divers,'' Tokaryk continued.

    Brod is in reference to American paleontologist Pierce Brodkorb, avis is Latin for bird and americanus refers to the fact the species inhabited what's now North America. The Brodavis americanus is one of four species in the newly discovered Brodavidae family.

    Brodavis americanus was around when the Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops roamed the earth. It was known that aquatic birds existed during the same time, but Tokaryk said finding new species increases the knowledge of researchers.

    ``It helps flesh out the diversity of birds - the archaic birds primarily - right before the extinction event 65 million years ago,'' Tokaryk said. ``We know that some species survived the extinction event and some species didn't.''

    The first specimen was found in Saskatchewan in the 1980s by Kevin Conlin, a friend of Tokaryk. Conlin donated his findings to Tokaryk, who immediately recognized that they likely belonged to a group of archaic birds. From that point, it took many years to make this eventual breakthrough.

    When Tokaryk, Martin and Kurochkin got together on the project, they shared replicas of their specimens. Martin's came from America and Kurochkin's came from Mongolia.

    ``The process of scientific discovery is not like Jurassic Park, where you find something in the field and say, `Ah ha' and announce it to the world and you move on,'' Tokaryk said. ``Often you find fragmentary remains or partial remains and you have to sit on it. You may need further specimens, you may need further thoughts, you may need access to further technologies.''

    Even with this announcement, the research and search for more fossils will continue.

    ``Birds, because their bones in general are hollow, they're not the best well-preserved in their fossil record,'' Tokaryk said. ``Now, we have this archaic group of birds that didn't survive the extinction event, but we still had modern birds around at that time that did survive.

    ``The selectivity of the extinction event is still one of the major problems and major discussion about evolution and extinction.''

    Regina Leader-Post

    © Copyright (c) Postmedia News

    Source: Canada.com

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