The coot: ancestral to chickens, sparrows, parrots and giant stink birds

Fulica atra (Linneaus 1758) is the extant coot, a small water bird with large fleshy feet. Here it nests with Chauna, the screamer, but without such a deadly digit zero. The ascending process of the premaxilla spreads laterally beneath a frontal shield, a decoration on the forehead.

Figure 1. The coot (genus: Fulica) is ancestral to the chicken/parrot clade.

Figure 1. The coot (genus: Fulica) is ancestral to the chicken/parrot clade.

Certainly
an underapprciated bird, given the importance of its transitional morphology between basal storks, like the superficially similar trumpeter Psophia, and the clade of screamers + crakes + chickens + sparrows + parrots + the giant stink birds, Dinornis and Gastornis. The smallest of these became good flyers. The rest never did.

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names.

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names.

This clade
had origins in the Early Cretaceous.

References
Linnaeus C 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.

wiki/Chauna
wiki/Fulica

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Eogranivora has chicken feet and 6 fingers

Higher resolution data
and DGS color overlays reveal that the Early Cretaceous chicken, Eogranivora, has overlooked manual and pedal digits (Fig. 1). Digit zero makes an appearance here. Fusion was much less apparent than traced. Pedal digit 1 was overlooked, despite the tracing of pedal 1.1.

Figure 1. The manus and pes of the Early Cretaceous chicken, Eogranivora. Here digit 0 makes an appearance on the manus along with vestigial digits 4 and 5. On the pes pedal digits 1 (cyan) and 5 (purple) were overlooked. Here DGS reveals them. Overlay changes ever 5 seconds. The process of fusion implied by the drawings is not yet complete under DGS.

Figure 1. The manus and pes of the Early Cretaceous chicken, Eogranivora. Here digit 0 makes an appearance on the manus along with vestigial digits 4 and 5. On the pes pedal digits 1 (cyan) and 5 (purple) were overlooked. Here DGS reveals them. Overlay changes ever 5 seconds. The process of fusion implied by the drawings is not yet complete under DGS.

Earlier we looked at Eogranivora and nested it with Gallus the extant chicken using low-rez data. Here even the skull is updated with plate and counter plate revealing data overlooked by original authors (Figs. 2,3 for those who don’t review updated blog posts).

Figure 1b. Eogranivora skull in situ (plate and counterplate) in higher resolution.

Figure 2. Eogranivora skull in situ (plate and counterplate) in higher resolution.

Figure 1c. Skull of Eogranivora in situ and reconstructed using DGS, replacing a lower resolution attempt. Some details added for the palate here.

Figure 3. Skull of Eogranivora in situ and reconstructed using DGS, replacing a lower resolution attempt. Some details added for the palate here.

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 HongshanornisEogranivora is toothless. This specimen is a direct link from the Early Cretaceous to the present day. With larger wings and a smaller body Eogranivora would have been a better flyer than extant chickens.

Figure 2. Gallus, the chicken, nests as a sister to the Early Cretaceous, Eogranivora, also a seed-eater.

Figure 4.. Gallus, the chicken, nests as a sister to the Early Cretaceous, Eogranivora, also a seed-eater. Note the length of the robust scapula.

With robust ribs
and a scapula extending back to the pelvis, Gallus, the chicken stands out from most birds. Eogranivora, if I have this right, also has robust ribs and an extended scapula (Fig. 5). Preservation is a funny thing when plates are split from counter plates. Sometimes we see the bone. Sometimes we see an impression of bone. Sometimes the bone splits down the middle and we see the inside of the bone. Here the parts of the scapula appear to be below and above the ribs, hence, my trepidation.

Figure 5. The crop, gizzard, sternum and scapulae of Eogranivora with DGS color overlays. Some guesswork here.

Figure 5. The crop, gizzard, sternum and scapulae? of Eogranivora with DGS color overlays. Some guesswork here. Some vertical bones apparently cross over and under the horizontal ribs. 

References
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

wiki/Eogranivora
wiki/Gallus

Reconstructing Changchengornis

Changchengornis hengdaoziensis
(Ji et al. 1999, Chiappe et al. 1999; GMV-2129) is an Early Cretaceous relative of Zhongornis and Confuciusornis preserved as a plate and counter plate, flattened, but complete and articulated… with feathers and skin outlines (Figs. 1, 2). 

Figure 1. Changchengornis in situ, plate, counterplate, original drawing and new DGS tracing.

Figure 1. Changchengornis in situ, plate, counterplate, original drawing and new DGS tracing.

Missing from the original tracing
are the postorbital bones, the pubis, some tiny teeth and a series of caudal vertebrae (not a pygostyle) as in other confuciusornithiformes (Fig. 4).

Figure 2. Changchengornis original tracings, counterplate flipped to match plate. DGS found a few more bones than shown here.

Figure 2. Changchengornis original tracings, counterplate flipped to match plate. DGS found a few more bones than shown here.

Here it is reconstructed (Fig. 3).

Figure 2. Changchenornis reconstructed.

Figure 3. Changchenornis reconstructed using DGS.

So far (as I know…)
Changchengornis is the only confuciusornithiform (Fig. 4) with a convex rostrum. It also has the shortest tail. At present this clade only extends from the Late Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous.

Figure 4. Confuciusornithiformes to scale. Note the lack of a pygostyle in the majority of taxa.

Figure 4. Confuciusornithiformes to scale. Note the lack of a pygostyle in these taxa.

References
Ji Q, Chiappe L and Ji S 1999. A new Late Mesozoic confuciusornithid bird from China. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 19(1): 1–7.
Chiappe LM, Ji S-A, J Q, Norell MA 1999. Anatomy and systematics of the Confuciusornithidae (Theropoda:Aves) from the Late Mesozoic of northeastern China. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 242: 89pp. PDF

wiki/Changchengornis

Birds in the LRT with suggested nomenclature

Updated February 4, 2018 with new taxa and new provisional clade names.

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names.

Figure 1. More taxa, updated tree, new clade names.

Just a moment to update
the bird subset of the large reptile tree (LRT, 1157 taxa). Given the present taxon list, this is the order they fall into using the generalized characters used throughout the LRT. The names applied here are used in traditional studies, but perhaps not following previous definitions. If this cladogram can be validated by other morphological studies, then perhaps these clade names can retain their usefulness.

Does anyone see
in this list two ‘related’ taxa that do not resemble one another more so than any other taxon? If so, that needs to be noted and repaired.

I was looking for a long-legged crow…

But I only found a grackle.

Then I started looking
for a long-legged crow/grackle for the large reptile tree (LRT, 1151 taxa), because basal Euornithes are all long-legged, terrestrial birds. Grackles/crows were short-legged exceptions that needed a long-legged ancestor.

Figure 1. Oedicnemus longirostris (= Burhinus oedicnemus?) the long-sough long-legged crow/grackle, the Eurasian stone curlew or thick knee.

Figure 1. Oedicnemus longirostris (= Burhinus oedicnemus?) the long-sough long-legged crow/grackle, the Eurasian stone curlew or thick knee.

I finally found one.
It’s the Eurasian stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemius) aka? thick-knee (maybe previously known as: Oedicnemius longirostris, Fig. 1).

Oedicnemus longirostris (aka?: Burhinus oedicnemus Linneaus 1758) is the extant Eurasian stone curlew or thick-knee. Length: up to 46cm. Large yellow bulging eyes are adaptations to nocturnal hunting of small tetrapods and invertebrates. Long legs and a terrestrial lifestyle are primitive for all neognath, euornithine birds. This taxon is derived from a sister to Ciconia and basal to grackles, like Quiscalus (below) as well as the Aramus and Threskiornis clades. Note the tiny pedal digit 1.

I was also looking for a megapode.
Any megapode. Could not find skeletal material on the Internet. The good folks at the Smithsonian sent me some bits and pieces. That solves yet another phylogenetic problem.

References
Linnaeus C 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.

wiki/Common_grackle
wiki/Corvus
wiki/Blue_jay
wiki/Eurasian_stone-curlew

Flamingo teeth

Figure 1. The picture says it all. Like ducks and Pelagornis, pseudo teeth appear in flamingos. Here they are used for filtering. Compare these jaws to those of the right whale, Balaena.

Figure 1. The picture says it all. Like ducks and Pelagornis, pseudo teeth appear in flamingos. Here they are used for filtering. Compare these jaws to those of the right whale, Balaena.

No, they’re not real teeth,
But they act like baleen to filter out tiny brine shrimp and blue-green algae. According to Wikipedia, “Their bills are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they eat, and are uniquely used upside-down. The filtering of food items is assisted by hairy structures called lamellae which line the mandibles, and the large rough-surfaced tongue.”

Figure 2. Phoenicopterus, the flamingo, sometimes enjoys the beach.

Duck teeth
(Fig. 3) are not real teeth either.

Figure 3. Anas, the mallard duck, shares more trait with Aepyornis than with other taxa in the LRT.

Figure 3. Anas, the mallard duck, shares more trait with Aepyornis than with other taxa in the LRT.

Pelagornis teeth
(Fig. 4) are not real teeth either. But, brother they look ral.

Figure 1. Pelagornis skeletal elements.

Figure 4. Pelagornis skeletal elements.

Hesperornis teeth|
(Fig. 5) are real teeth.

Figure 2. Hesperornis skull. Compare this to that of Pelagornis in figure 1.

Figure 5. Hesperornis skull. Compare this to that of Pelagornis in figure 1.

Harrisonavis and the origin of flamingos

Harrisonavis croizeti (Torres et al. 2015, Fig. 1) is very clearly an Oligocene flamingo.  Other than the angle of its beak, it is a close match to the living flamingo, Phoenicopterus (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. Candidate taxa in the ancestry of flamingos. Most bird experts like long-necked Paleolodus, a tinamou in the LRT. Ignored is Cariama, which shares more traits with flamingos in the LRT.

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. Candidate taxa in the ancestry of flamingos. Most bird experts like long-necked Paleolodus, a tinamou in the LRT. Ignored is Cariama, which shares more traits with flamingos in the LRT.

The trouble comes when you try to delve deeper into flamingo ancestry.
Bird experts, like Mayr 2004, say Palaelodus (Fig. 2 ) is the next outgroup to flamingos. Well, in a way, it is, but the large reptile tree (LRT, 1051 taxa, Fig. 2) nests Palaeodus with Struthio, the ostrich, just outside of the clade that starts with Phoenicopterus, the flamingo, and Cariama, the seriema. So, it’s a close one! Palaelodus was the last of the flying ostriches. All of the basalmost neognaths had long, stilt-like legs.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on birds. Here various aspects of birds are shown, including age, teeth, feeding behavior and basic clades.

Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on birds. Here various aspects of birds are shown, including age, teeth, feeding behavior and basic clades.

Figure 1. Nearly proportioned like its giant descendant, Palaeotis was an Eocene ostrich less than 1/3 as tall.

Figure 3. Nearly proportioned like its giant descendant, Palaeotis was an Eocene ostrich less than 1/3 as tall. Compare to Palaelodus.

References
Linnaeus C von 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.
Linneaus C 1766. Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio duodecima, reformata. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii).: 1-532.
Mayr G 2004. Morphological evidence for sister group relationship between flamingos (Aves: Phoenicopteridae) and grebes (Podicipedidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 140 (2): 157–169. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2003.00094.x. ISSN 0024-4082.
Molina JI 1782. Saggio sulla Storia Naturale del Chili. Bologna, Stamperia di S. Tommaso d’Aquino. 349 pp.
Olson SL and Feduccia A 1980. Relationships and evolution of flamingos (Aves: Phoenicopteridae). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 316: 1–73.
Torres CR, De Pietri VL, Louchart A and van Tuinen M 2015. New cranial material of the earliest filter feeding flamingo Harrisonavis croizeti (Aves, Phoenicopteridae) informs the evolution of the highly specialized filter feeding apparatus. Organisms, Diversity & Evolution. DOI: 10.1007/s13127-015-0209-7

wiki/Seriema
wiki/Flamingo
wiki/Phoenicopteridae