The first birds

The first birds had sharp teeth, long bony tails and claws on their hands. The clear distinction we see between living birds and other animals did not exist with early birds. In fact, they were more like small dinosaurs than they were like any bird today.

Archaeopteryx diagram

 © Australian Museum

The earliest known bird is the 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx, but birds had evolved before then. A range of birds with more advanced features appeared soon after Archaeopteryx. One group gave rise to modern birds in the Late Cretaceous. So, for a time, bird-like dinosaurs, primitive birds and early modern birds all co-existed.

Two examples of early birds are:

Archaeopteryx lithographica

Archaeopteryx has a number of features not found in modern birds, including:

  • jaws with teeth
  • claws on hands
  • long, bony tail
Confuciusornis sanctus

Confuciusornis was an early bird that lived 125 million years ago in China. It had many primitive features including claws on the wings. However, it had more advanced features than Archaeopteryx as it was one of the earliest known birds to have a shortened bony tail and a toothless beak. It also had feathers suited for flight.


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Tags early birds, dinosaurs, Cretaceous,