What makes a bird a bird? Before beginning this chapter, ask your class to name what defines a bird. Also, introduce them to Archaeopteryx.

This page uses archaeopteryx as the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. It also asks students to figure out what questions they would ask in order to classify it.

Finally, the timeline demonstrates the idea that "dinosaurs evolved into birds" leaves out the fact that archeeopteryx evolved 85 million years before dinosaurs all became extinct.



For years, scientists have been researching the connection between birds and dinosaurs. This theory was born with the discovery of a 150-million-year-old fossilized creature in a swamp in Germany in the 1860s. Archaeopteryx was possibly the most controversial prehistoric remain ever dug up. It is the oldest known bird fossil. Most biologists accept it as conclusive proof that dinosaurs sired birds.

Archaeopteryx had three toes armed with claws and long, strong legs. Clearly it walked and perched like a bird. Its head had the reptilian feature of jawbones. Its spine was extended into a bony tail - just like a reptile's. On both sides of the tail bones, clearly visible, were the clinching characteristics of birds - feathers.

But not all scientists agree with the birds-from-dinosaurs link. Alan Feduccia, professor of biology at the University of North Carolina, is a notable doubter.
He contends that Archaeopteryx wasn't the ancestor of all birds, but just another of nature's many experiments. He argues that a huge evolution of birds had been going on before Archaeopteryx, and that they evolved from four-legged forest reptiles.


Life of Birds

National Geographic

  Hunters & Hunted
  What's for Lunch?
  How's the Water
  Beaks are Tools
  Backyard Birdfeeder
  Shapes & Sizes
  Lift Off
  A Big Enough Wing
  Migration Hopscotch
  Sing Out Loud
  Virtual Incubator
  Dance of Love
  On the Egg
  Becoming a Bird
  The Big Deal: The Feather
  Dead or Alive
  Are Birds Dinosaurs?

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