Eofringillirostrum: a tiny Eocene crake, not a finch

Ksepka, Grande and Mayr 2019
describe two Early Eocene congeneric bird species. Eofringillirostrum parvulum (Fig. 1) is from Germany, 47mya. Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi from Wyoming, 52mya.

Figure 1. Eofringillirostrum in situ at full scale at 72 dpi and closeups of the skull in situ with DGS tracing and reconstructed. Note the slender vomer (purple).

Figure 1. Eofringillirostrum in situ at full scale at 72 dpi and closeups of the skull in situ with DGS tracing and reconstructed. Note the slender vomer (purple) and the added detail gleaned with DGS compared to the original tracing in figure 2.

Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi, E. parvulum (Ksepka, Grande and Mayr 2019; IRSNB Av 128a+bFMNH PA 793; early Eocene; < 10cm long with feathers) was originally considered a finch and a relative of Pumiliornis, a wren-sized Middle Eocene spoonbill. Here Eofringillirostrum nests as a phylogenetically miniaturized corn crake (below). The rail, Crex, is ancestral to chickens, sparrows, moas and parrots, so Eofringillirostrum probably had a Cretaceous origin. A distinctly long fourth toe  was considered capable of being reversed, but no sister taxa with a similar long toe ever reverse it for perching until, many nodes later, parrots appear.

Figure 1. Much enlarged Eofringillirostrum with original tracing and DGS colors. The crest of the sternum, originally overlooked, is just barely ossified here.

Figure 1. Much enlarged Eofringillirostrum with original tracing and DGS colors. The crest of the sternum, originally overlooked, is just barely ossified here.

Corn crake are not ‘perching birds’. 
As we learned earlier, taxa formerly considered members of Passeriformes are a much smaller list in the LRT. Birds capable of perching arise in several clades by convergence.

The corn crake is omnivorous but mainly feeds on invertebrates, the occasional small frog or mammal, and plant material including grass seed and cereal grain. It is not a perching bird, but prefers grasslands.

Figure 4. The extant corn crake (Crex) is a living relative of the giant elephant bird.

Figure 4. The extant corn crake (Crex) is a living relative of the tiny Eocene Eofringillirostrum.

According to the LRT,
Eofringillirostrum is not a finch, not a seed eater and not a ‘perching bird’ (in the classic sense, but likely evolved perching by convergence) according to phylogenetic analysis and phylogenetic bracketing.)

Figure 5. Skull of Crex most closely resembles that of the new Crex sister, Eofingillirostrum.

Figure 5. Skull of Crex most closely resembles that of the new Crex sister, Eofingillirostrum.

References
Ksepka DT, Grande L and Mayr G 2019. Oldest Finch-Beaked Birds Reveal Parallel Ecological Radiation in the Earliest Evolution of Passerines. Current Biology 29, 1–7.

sciencedaily.com

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