The bird of wonders, ‘Wonderchicken’ is the first known modern bird. It lived on the beaches of the planet almost 67 million years ago and survived the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. It is considered the ancestor of ducks, hens and chickens.
Asteriornis maastrichtensis, Wonderchicken, lived 66.7 million years ago and is the oldest known modern bird. It was a shorebird the size of a seagull and had the features of both ducks and chickens and turkeys.
At that time, the asteroid that deprived us of the wingless dinosaurs had not yet fallen. However, the descendants of Wonderchiken, with beak and wings, survived the cosmic tragedy. They were the size of a quail, and are considered the ancestor of modern chickens and ducks.
“The goddess Asteria transforms into a quail, and we believe that Asteriornis was close to the common ancestor that today includes quail, as well as chickens and ducks.”
Its name, Asteriornis, is due to a goddesses. According to the researchers who found the fossil skull: “We thought it was an appropriate name for a creature that lived just before an asteroid hit at the end of the Cretaceous,” explains co-author Dr. Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. “In Greek mythology, Asteria transforms into a quail, and we believe that Asteriornis was close to the common ancestor that today includes quail, as well as chickens and ducks.”
According to analyzes of fossil remains, which consist of a nearly complete skull and some limb bones, the bird is closely related to the most recent common ancestor of land and water birds, according to the study published in Nature.
The A. maastrichtensis skull is “a never-before-seen mix of duck and chicken-like features,” explains Daniel Field, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Cambridge.
Modern birds were supposed to evolve before the great extinction, about 66 million years ago. And the Wonderchiken fossil found is prior to these dates.
Modern-type birds share several key traits, such as toothless beaks and fused foot bones.
The nearly 11,000 species of live birds, the paleognaths (flightless birds like ostriches), anseriformes (water birds), galliformes (land birds), and neoaves (the remaining 95 percent of live bird species), share a common ancestor. says Field. “We believe that that ancestor lived sometime before the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” he says. But there are very few fossils of birds that survived the impact of the asteroid.
Wonderchicken fossils have been found in marine sediments, suggesting that the bird likely lived on beaches.
The front of the skull is similar to that of a chicken, including the nasal bone that is part of the nostril, which helps to shape its beak.
That beak shape suggests that, like chickens, the ancient bird wasn’t picky about eating either. But part of the skull is more characteristic of waterfowl like ducks. A. maastrichtensis had quite long legs.