Tell-tale toes point to oldest-known fossilized bird tracks from Australia

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | Oct. 29, 2013

Story image

The bird tracks were found on a slab of sandstone. Photo by Alan Tait.

Bird track

An illustration showing how the landing track was probably made as a bird set down on the moist sand of a river bank. Drawing by Tony Martin.

Two fossilized footprints found at Dinosaur Cove in Victoria, Australia, were likely made by birds during the Early Cretaceous, making them the oldest known bird tracks in Australia.

The journal Palaeontology is publishing an analysis of the footprints led by Anthony Martin, a paleontologist at Emory University who specializes in trace fossils, which include tracks, burrows and nests. The study was co-authored by Patricia Vickers-Rich and Michael Hall of Monash University in Victoria and Thomas Rich of the Museum Victoria in Melbourne.

Much of the rocky coastal strata of Dinosaur Cove in southern Victoria were formed in river valleys in a polar climate during the Early Cretaceous. A great rift valley formed as the ancient supercontinent Gondwana broke up and Australia separated from Antarctica.

“These tracks are evidence that we had sizeable, flying birds living alongside other kinds of dinosaurs on these polar, river floodplains, about 105 million years ago,” Martin says.

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