How long have we known that dinosaurs were birds?


26 Responses to “How long have we known that dinosaurs were birds?”

  1. bebopkid says:

    Thomas Huxley certainly was a brilliant scientist. And without his work it would have taken much longer before we discovered dinosaurs weren’t sloppy crocs; however, there are still controversies with dino-bird transition.

    There are a few feathered, flying birds that have been found in the same sediment along side dinosaurs. (I’m not talking about the archaeopteryx, either — it’s called the eoconfuciusornis zhengi.^1) The more birds we find along side dinosaurs the trickier it gets to prove the theory.

    There are evolutionary scientists that do not subscribe to the dino to bird theory, too. Like Alan Feduccia world authority on birds from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and paleontologist Larry Martin from University of Kansas.  Also, a study was done back in 2009 (D.E. Quick and J.A. Ruben^2) that find other discrepancies.  While it’s certainly not a earth shattering list it’s not a couple no-names, either.


    • doug rogers says:

      One can, no doubt, find Neanderthal bones alongside other primitive primate bones. Proof, therefore they are not related.

      • Mike Chappars says:

        The offspring from a modern human and a Neanderthal would produce a viable offspring, ergo we are all the same and the same species.  If all the talk I hear about Neanderthals were said about Africans you would be crucified, you are just a temporal racist.  The Neanderthal was fully modern and had complex culture and language — they just looked more macho than you puny city slickers.

    • chenille says:

      What? The more birds we find with dinosaurs, the more support there has been for the theory. Some things traditionally considered non-birds, like dromaeosaurids, are now thought to be possibly flightless descendants of flying ancestors. Chinese finds like Eoconfuciornis are a big part of why there are so few hold-outs against the model.

      Saying theropods lived many millions of years after birds marks a clear confusion about how evolution works. They lived many millions of years earlier, too; those early ones would be the common ancestors of both later theropods and birds.

      As far as the opening post, I’ll second that dinosaurs were not birds. Birds evolved from dinosaurs, as was suggested long ago, and gradually has become more and more clear from evidence.

      I should note, though, that the sudden change to birds are dinosaurs has little to do with this support. It has to do with a new tendency to insist on phylogenetic naming, whereas older authors are happy to split groups based on phenotypic differences. We’ve known humans ultimately evolved from fish for a long time, but it’s only recently anyone would say we are fish.

  2. Calimecita says:

    Erm… shouldn’t it be the other way around, i.e. “How long have we known that birds were dinosaurs”? Because not all dinosaurs are birds ;-)

  3. silkox says:

    An interesting effect of the old thunder-lizard mind-set is that there still seem to be more herpetologists than ornithologists in academia.

    Isn’t the key question in the herp – bird controversy which clade is most recently diverged from dinos? Seems like birds are still the most recent ancestor.

  4. MarcVader says:

    So did dromaeosaurids taste like chicken? Will we, in the not too distant future, be able to eat dromaeoturducken? Inquiring minds want to know!

  5. Nils Weedon says:

    I feel like it should be noted that Jurassic Park is likely the sole reason the dinosaur > bird hypothesis finally entered the public eye.

    Clever girl.

  6. Mike Chappars says:

    Dinosaurs were not birds, they were dinosaurs.  They were all very different – plus we have 0 genetic evidence.  Placental and marsupial mammals are very different, but they both produced tigers that had very similar skeletons.  Your mentality that it is “obvious” that birds and dinosaurs are somehow that same shows your ignorance of the evolutionary sciences and is a reason that evolutionary sciences lack credibility in the public arena — the self appointed spokes people are basically wrong all of the time.

  7. leonsp says:

    It’s funny. Just the other day, I was talking with my wife about how strange it is that the idea that dinosaurs were warm-blooded still hasn’t entered popular consciousness, despite it being in every book about dinosaurs since the 1980s, except insofar as people have come to know of dinosaurs as the ancestors of birds who are warm-blooded.

  8. thermidorthelobster says:

    I studied palaeontology at the University of Cambridge in the mid-1990s, with some luminary palaeontologists such as Simon Conway-Morris, and if I recall correctly, the dino/bird hypothesis was regarded as a somewhat suspicious theory by some senior people even then.  As a science teacher now I find plenty of the kids know about it before I teach it to them.

  9. Marja Erwin says:

    I don’t think she meant that dinosaurs are birds in the same sense that birds are dinosaurs. I think she meant that dinosaurs are birds in the sense that, if we wish to understand how dinosaurs lived, thinking of them as some kind of birds is more revealing than thinking of them as some kind of herp, and at least as good as thinking of them as some kind of mammal analogue.

    P.S, in response to chenille, above, but the login system was not working.

  10. in 1977, the zarn character in the original land of the lost saturday morning tv show made some mention about dinosaurs evolving into birds. i was a bit curious and mentioned it to our local librarian who helped me find a “more contemporary” book on paleontology where the “dino / bird” hypothesis was surprisingly well documented.

    fwiw… that show and that experience was part of a chain of events that led me to study science in college (though i’ve been a professional software person for forever.)

    so maybe there were other kids who first heard of the dino / bird connection from classic saturday morning tv.

  11. Alan Goulding says:

    A lot of great ideas seem obvious in retrospect. I remember hearing the bird/dinosaur thing and feeling that little click in your head that registers the truth of it but I hadn’t seen it for myself.

  12. CountZero says:

    You seem to be some sort of expert on the subject. Care to share your credentials and references to peer-reviewed papers.

    • CountZero says:

      PS, in reply to #mikechappers; the login messed me about. Again. Disqus is bloody awful. It often forgets me and I have to log in again and my reply is no longer relevant to the original post

  13. h0n0rb says:

    Any recommendations for kids’ books that tackle this subject? As a sometime elementary school teacher I admit I have never ever made this connection for students, so if there’s a good readaloud book out there I want to hear about it. If not, consider this an opening in the market.

  14. chaoskittenii says:

    I love seeing the evolution of scientific ideas preserved in the record, it’s like paleontology itself. Thanks for a nice summary of an interesting breakthrough.

  15. Macgruder says:

    “Dinosaurs were birds” is just plain wrong:
    Dinosaurs were birds is not the same as birds were dinosaurs. It’s a bit like saying mammals are whales. One branch of the dinosaur tree did not go extinct, and that branch evolved into modern birds, but to suggest dinosaurs were birds is misleading.

  16. Bionicrat says:

    Funny, I felt like this at one point but it seems that the more  I learn about dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and birds – mostly due to the interests of my children – the more it seems that the “dino biz” doesn’t actually think this.  Others said it above here but they are very distinct lines.   Also dinosaurs are still in the class “reptilia”, eh? If the issue had enough support they could be put in “aves” , right?

  17. manooshi says:

    Maggie, are you not a scientist? If so, how could you frame the title of your post so inaccurately from an evolutionary perspective? X maybe being derived from Y, does NOT mean Y = X, as your title states. This is basic mathematics.

  18. bbrimble says:

    Before Huxley, Amherst College geologist Edward Hitchcock first suggested the dino tracks he found in abundance in Western Massachusetts were made by pre-historic birds. When Sir Richard Owen coined the word “dinosaur,” Hitchcock objected, saying he thought the name misleading–what he saw was more avian than lizard-like. He debated the point with Darwin, too. For more on the man, I wrote a story about Hitchcock a few years back, and his collection of tracks is impressively displayed at the school’s natural museum:

  19. Ito Kagehisa says:

    Maggie, do you know about Franz Nopcsa von Felsö-Szilvás’s “pro-avis”?  Baron Nopcsa was talking about warm-blooded dinosaurs evolving into birds in the 1920s.

  20. Nick Gardner says:

    You know, despite people ragging on Maggie, it’s not that inappropriate to say that dinosaurs are birds. After all, all dinosaurs are stem-birds and part of the Pan-Aves clade (everything closer to birds than to crocodiles), e.g. bird-line archosaurs… :) It’s just a matter of how you want to think about it. When you consider how often people sloppily refer to things outside of the croc clade that were never classically called ‘crocodylians’ as ‘crocs’… I don’t think this is too different or really all that radical.

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