Updated August 1, 2021 with more taxa Eogranivora now nests with Cretaceous megapodes leading to toothed crown birds.
This was predicted
by the large reptile tree (LRT, 1054 taxa, subset Fig. 3) and overlooked by the original authors due to a lack of an accurate tracing of the skull. Extant birds had their origin in the Early Cretaceous… they just have not been discovered there, until now.
Eogranivora edentulata (Zheng et al. 2018; Early Cretaceous, Yixian Fm. Aptian, 125 mya; STM35-3) was earlier referred to Hongshanornis by (Zheng et al. 2011) who found evidence for an avian crop, along with feathers, gastroliths and seeds in the present specimen. Distinct from the holotype of Hongshanornis, Eogranivora is toothless.
With larger wings and a smaller body
Eogranivora would have been a better flyer than extant chickens.
You may remember
the highly derived penguins first appear in the Paleocene. The appearance of volant chickens in the Early Cretaceous makes this easier (more gradual), and falsifies the earlier widely-held hypothesis of a fast radiation of extant birds shortly after the K-T extinction event.
This could have been a big news event.
Unfortunately, it falls to bloggers to make the importance of this fossil widely known.
Zheng X, O’Connor JK, Wang X, Wang Y and Zhou Z 2018. Reinterpretation of a previously described Jehol bird clarifies early trophic evolution in the Ornithuromorpha. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285: 20172494
Zheng X-T, Martin LD, Zhou Z-H, Burnham DA, Zhang F-C and Miao D 2011. Fossil evidence of avian crops from the Early Cretaceous of China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. USA 108: 15 904–907