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Fossil birds

Birds Guide

Fossil birds

Neornithes | Aves incertae sedis

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A cast of the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx, the most famous prehistoric bird.
A cast of the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx, the most famous prehistoric bird.

Birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs and there is no real dividing line between birds and dinosaurs, except of course that the former survived the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event and the latter did not. For the purposes of this article, a 'bird' is considered to be any member of the clade Aves. Some dinosaur groups which may or may not be true birds are listed below under 'Proto-birds'.

This page contains a listing of prehistoric bird taxa only known from completely fossilized specimens. These extinctions took place before the Late Quaternary and thus took place in the absence of human interference. Rather, reasons for extinction are stochastic abiotic events such as bolide impacts, climate change due to orbital shifts, mass volcanic eruptions etc. Alternatively, species may have gone extinct due to evolutionary displacement by successor or competitor taxa - it is notable that an extremely large number of seabirds have gone extinct during the mid-Tertiary; this is probably due to competition by the contemporary radiation of marine mammals. The relationships of these taxa are often hard to determine, as many are known only from very fragmentary remains and due to the complete fossilization precluding analysis of information from DNA, RNA or protein sequencing. The taxa listed in this article should be classified with the Wikipedia conservation status category "Fossil".


Taxonomic List of Fossil Prehistoric Birds

Extinct genera are presented in ascending chronological order. Extinct forms of extant genera are sorted alphabetically by genus first, then chronologically.

The higher-level groups of non-Neornithes are arranged after Chiappe (2001, 2002), updated and expanded to incorporate recent research. These categories are inclusive in ascending order: e.g., every basal pygostylian is a member of the Aves (but more advanced than "basal Aves"), etc.

Please be aware that taxonomic assignments, especially in the pygostylian to early neornithine genera, are still very provisional and subject to quite frequent change.


This category contains very early fossils that some consider the earliest evidence of birds and others which are generally agreed to be theropods but the placement of which in regard to birds is controversial, with most scientists consider them closely related to birds and others avian enough to include in the latter. In any case, these forms demonstrate that feathered wings were not limited to true birds, but evolved independently in several related lineages of theropods

  • Protoavis (Late Triassic) - a nomen dubium
    Palaeopteryx (Late Jurassic) - a nomen dubium
  • Alvarezsauridae
    • Shuvuuia (Late Cretaceous)
  • Oviraptorosauria
    • Caudipteryx (Early Cretaceous)
  • Scansoriopterygidae
    • Epidendrosaurus (Early Cretaceous)
  • Troodontidae
    • Mei (Early Cretaceous)
  • Dromaeosauridae
    • Rahonavis (Late Cretaceous)
  • Yandangornis

†Basal Aves

Model of Sapeornis chaoyangensis, a short-legged Early Cretaceous bird the size of a large grouse which probably fed on fruit and nuts.
Model of Sapeornis chaoyangensis, a short-legged Early Cretaceous bird the size of a large grouse which probably fed on fruit and nuts.

The most primitive birds, usually still possessing a long bony tail with generally unfused vertebrae.

  • Unresolved forms
    • Dalianraptor (Jiufotang Early Cretaceous of Liaoning, China)
      Hebeiornis (Yixian? Early Cretaceous? of Hebei, China)
      Jixiangornis (Early Cretaceous)
      Shenzhouraptor (Early Cretaceous)
      Hulsanpes (Late Cretaceous)
  • Archaeopterygidae
    • Archaeopteryx (Late Jurassic)
      Wellnhoferia (Late Jurassic) - may be synonym of Archaeopteryx


  • Omnivoropterygidae
    • Omnivoropteryx (Early Cretaceous)
    • Sapeornis (Jiufotang Early Cretaceous of Chaoyang City, China)

†Basal Pygostylia

Reconstruction of two Confuciusornis in flught, showing their strange wing shape.
Reconstruction of two Confuciusornis in flught, showing their strange wing shape.

The earliest birds with a modern pygostyle: a reduction and fusion of the tail vertebrae.

  • Placement unresolved
    • Abavornis (Late Cretaceous) - enantiornithine?
    • Catenoleimus
    • Explorornis
    • Incolornis
  • Confuciusornithidae
    • Proornis (Sinniju Late Jurassic/Early Cretaceous of Sinnuiju City, North Korea)
    • Changchengornis (Early Cretaceous of Chaomidianzi, China)
    • Confuciusornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Jinzhouornis


"Opposite Birds" due to the way their foot bones are fused; an extinct Mesozoic sub-class.

  • Unresolved and basal forms
    • Concornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Cuspirostrisornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Eoenantiornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Jibeinia (Early Cretaceous) - a nomen dubium
    • Largirostrornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Liaoxiornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Longchengornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Longipteryx (Early Cretaceous)
    • Longirostravis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Vescornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Enantiornithes gen. et sp. indet. CAGS−IG−02−0901 (Early Cretaceous)
    • Enantiornithes gen. et sp. indet. CAGS−IG−04−CM−007 (Early Cretaceous)
    • Eoalulavis (Middle Cretaceous)
    • Halimornis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Kizylkumavis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Lenesornis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Sazavis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Gurilynia (Late Cretaceous) - enantiornithiform?
    • Yungavolucris (Late Cretaceous) - enantiornithiform (avisaurid)?
    • Enantiornithes gen. et sp. indet. MCSNM V3882a (Late Cretaceous)
    • Enantiornithes gen. et sp. indet. RBCM.EH2005.003.0002 (Late Cretaceous)
    • Aberratiodontus
    • Alexornis
    • Dapingfangornis
  • Kuszholiidae
    • Kuszholia (Late Cretaceous)


  • Iberomesornithidae
    • Iberomesornis (Early Cretaceous)
    • Noguerornis (Early Cretaceous)


  • Cathayornithidae
    • Boluochia (Early Cretaceousa)
    • Cathayornis (Early Cretaceous) - includes Sinornis
    • Eocathayornis


  • Gobipterygidae
    • Gobipteryx (Late Cretaceous)


  • Placement unresolved
    • Lectavis (Late Cretaceous) - avisaurid?
  • Enantiornithidae
    • Enantiornis (Late Cretaceous)
  • Zhyraornithidae
    • Zhyraornis (Late Cretaceous)
  • Avisauridae
    • Avisaurus (Late Cretaceous)
    • Neuquenornis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Soroavisaurus (Late Cretaceous)

†Basal Ornithurae

Essentially modern birds, except many still possess a few primitive features such as teeth or wing claws.

  • Unresolved and basal forms
    • Gansus (Early Cretaceous) - basal
    • Apsaravis (Djadokhta Late Cretaceous of Ukhaa Tolgod, Mongolia)
    • Archaeorhynchus (Early Cretaceous of Liaoning, China)
    • Limenavis (Allen Late Cretaceous of Salitral Moreno, Argentina)
    • "cf. Parahesperornis" (Nemegt Late Cretaceous of Tsagaan Kushu, Mongolia) - hesperornithiform?
    • Carinatae gen. et sp. indet. NHMM/RD 271 (Maastricht Late Cretaceous, CBR-Romontbos Quarry, Belgium) - ichthyornithine?
    • Ornithurae gen. et sp. indet. RBCM.EH2005.003.0001 (Northumberland Late Cretaceous of Hornby Island, Canada)
    • Ornithurae gen. et sp. indet. TMP 98.68.145 (Dinosur Park Late Cretaceous of Iddesleigh, Canada) - hesperornithiform?
  • Ambiortidae
    • Ambiortus (Early Cretaceous of Mongolia)


  • Songlingornithidae
    • Songlingornis (Jiufotang Early Cretaceous of Liaoning, China)
    • Yanornis (Jiutotang Early Cretaceous of Chaoyang City, China)
    • Yixianornis (Jiufotang Early Cretaceous of Chaoyang City, China)


Skull of a Hesperornis with the unique teeth.
Skull of a Hesperornis with the unique teeth.

Large, toothed, loon-like diving birds.

  • Unresolved and basal forms
    • Hesperornithiformes gen. et sp. indet. (Late Cretaceous)
    • Hesperornithiformes gen. et sp. indet. TMP 89.81.12 (Late Cretaceous)
    • Judinornis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Potamornis (Late Cretaceous) - hesperornithid?
    • Pasquiaornis
  • Enaliornithidae
    • Enaliornis (Early Cretaceous)
  • Baptornithidae
    • Baptornis (Late Cretaceous)
  • Hesperornithidae
    • Hesperornis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Parahesperornis (Late Cretaceous)
    • Canadaga
    • Coniornis


Toothed birds similar to modern gulls.

  • Ichthyornidae
    • Ichthyornis (Late Cretaceous)

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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