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Four-Winged Bird Fossils Found in China, Researchers Say

By Jack Phillips
Epoch Times Staff
Created: March 14, 2013 Last Updated: March 16, 2013
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Four-winged bird fossils were discovered in northeastern China, according to a study published Thursday. The four-winged birds may have been ancestors to the crow and the turkey.

A fossil of a Microraptor from a 130-million year old forest that existed in what is now Liaoning Province, China is displayed at the new exhibit 'Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries' at the American Museum of Natural History May 10, 2005 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A fossil of a Microraptor from a 130-million year old forest that existed in what is now Liaoning Province, China is displayed at the new exhibit 'Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries' at the American Museum of Natural History May 10, 2005 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Scientists on Thursday say the ancestor of the crow and the turkey was a four-winged bird, according to research published in the Science journal.

Researchers led by Shandong, China-based Institute of Geology and Paleontology researcher Xing Xu found evidence that feathers existed on the hindlimbs of 11 basal avian specimens that lived around 130 million years ago.

“In particular, they provide solid evidence for the existence of enlarged leg feathers on a variety of basal birds, suggest that extensively scaled feet might have appeared secondarily at an early stage” in the development of primitive birds, reads an abstract of the study.

Around a decade ago, discoveries of fossils that had the feathered limbs were made around 10 years ago in dinosaur species called the Microraptor and Sinornithosaurus, according to The New York Times. The Microraptor’s large leg feathers may have been used in actually flying or in gliding.

“It is amazing that so many early birds had large leg feathers,” Xu told Nature.com.

Xu examined fossils in Liaoning Province, located in northern China, which has a large quantity of fossils from the early Cretaceous period, according to the Times.

Mark Norell, with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, told Nature, however, that the leg feathers do not mean that the prehistoric birds actually used them. He said that it also does not mean that rear leg feathers may not have been a feature for all early birds.

“Flight is many things to many people,” he said. “The origin of flight is not going to come from just one discovery.”

But he said the recent work in China “is most interesting.”

“I would like to see a denser sampling” before reaching firm conclusions about the specific importance of the four-wing transition in the origin of bird flight,” he told the Times.

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