, Volume 91, Issue 4, pp 173–177 | Cite as

The oldest European fossil songbird from the early Oligocene of Germany

  • Gerald Mayr
  • Albrecht Manegold
Short Communication


We report on the oldest European songbird (Passeriformes), from the early Oligocene (30–34 million years ago) of Frauenweiler in Germany. The specimen represents the earliest associated remains of an early Tertiary passerine described so far. It ties the first appearance of Passeriformes in Europe to a minimum age of 30 million years. Passeriform birds are absent in Eocene deposits that yielded abundant remains of small land birds and apparently dispersed into Europe around the Eocene/Oligocene boundary (about 34 million years ago), not at the Oligocene/Miocene boundary (about 24 mya) as hitherto thought. This possibly relates the appearance of songbirds in Europe to a well-known major faunistic break at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary, called the “grande coupure”. The Frauenweiler songbird most notably differs from extant Passeriformes in having a larger processus procoracoideus on the coracoid and appears to be outside Eupasseres, the taxon which includes Oscines (all modern European and most Old World songbirds) and Suboscines (most South and Central American songbirds). It shows that there were earlier dispersal events of non-oscine songbirds into Europe before the arrival of Oscines from the Australian continental plate towards the late Oligocene.


Eocene Oligocene Middle Eocene Caudal Margin Oscine 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank M. Keller for donating the fossil specimen to Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, S. Tränkner for taking the photograph, and J. Clarke, R. Chandler, and two anonymous referees for comments on the manuscript.


  1. Ballmann P (1969) Die Vögel aus der altburdigalen Spaltenfüllung von Wintershof (West) bei Eichstätt in Bayern. Zitteliana 1:5–60Google Scholar
  2. Barker FK, Barrowclough GF, Groth JG (2002) A phylogenetic hypothesis for passerine birds: taxonomic and biogeographic implications of an analysis of nuclear DNA sequence. Proc R Soc Lond B 269:295–308CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baumel JJ, Witmer LM (1993) Osteologia. In: Baumel JJ, King AS, Breazile JE, Evans HE, Vanden Berge JC (eds) Handbook of avian anatomy: Nomina anatomica avium. Publ Nuttall Ornithol Club 23:45–132Google Scholar
  4. Blondel J, Mourer-Chauviré C (1998) Evolution and history of the western Palaearctic avifauna. Trends Ecol Evol 13:488–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bock WJ (1962) The pneumatic fossa of the humerus in the Passeres. Auk 79:425–443Google Scholar
  6. Boles WE (1995) The world’s oldest songbird. Nature 374:21–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheneval J (2000) L’avifaune de Sansan. In: Ginsburg L (ed) La faune miocène de Sansan et son environnement. Mem Mus Natl Hist Nat 183:321–388Google Scholar
  8. Cracraft J (2001) Avian evolution, Gondwana biogeography and the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event. Proc R Soc Lond B 268:459–469CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Ericson PGP, Christidis L, Cooper A, Irestedt M, Jackson J, Johansson US, Norman JA (2002a) A Gondwana origin of passerine birds supported by DNA sequences of the endemic New Zealand wrens. Proc R Soc Lond B 269:235–241CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Ericson PGP, Christidis L, Irestedt M, Norman JA (2002b) Systematic affinities of the lyrebirds (Passeriformes: Menura), with a novel classification of the major groups of passerine birds. Mol Phyl Evol 25:53–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ericson PGP, Irestedt M, Johansson U (2003) Evolution, biogeography, and patterns of diversification in passerine birds. J Avian Biol 34:3–15Google Scholar
  12. Feduccia A (1999) The origin and evolution of birds, 2nd edn. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.Google Scholar
  13. Feduccia A, Olson SL (1982) Morphological similarities between the Menurae and the Rhinocryptidae, relict passerine birds of the southern hemisphere. Smiths. Contrib Zool 366:1–22Google Scholar
  14. Hartenberger J-L (1983) La grande coupure. Pour la Science 67:26–39Google Scholar
  15. Hartenberger J-L (1998) An Asian grande coupure. Nature 394:321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heimerdinger MA, Ames PL (1967) Variation in the sternal notches of suboscine passeriform birds. Postilla 105:1–44Google Scholar
  17. Höfling E, Alvarenga HMF (2001) Osteology of the shoulder girdle in the Piciformes, Passeriformes and related groups of birds. Zool Anz 240:196–208Google Scholar
  18. Kühne W (1961) Präparation von flachen Wirbeltieren auf künstlicher Matrix. Palaeontol Z 35:251–252Google Scholar
  19. Legendre S, Lévêque F (1997) Etalonnage de l’échelle biochronologique mammalienne du Paléogène d’Europe occidentale: vers une intégration à l’échelle globale. In: Aguilar J-P, Legendre S, Michaux J (eds) Actes du Congrès BiochroM’97. Mem Trav EPHE Inst Montpellier 21:461–473Google Scholar
  20. Maclean GL (1990) Evolution of the passerines in the southern hemisphere. Transvaal Mus Bull [Suppl] 22:1–11Google Scholar
  21. Mayr G (2000a) Die Vögel der Grube Messel: ein Einblick in die Vogelwelt Mitteleuropas vor 49 Millionen Jahren. Nat Mus 130:365–378Google Scholar
  22. Mayr G (2000b) A new mousebird (Coliiformes: Coliidae) from the Oligocene of Germany. J Ornithol 141:85–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mayr G, Peters DS, Rietschel S (2002) Petrel-like birds with a peculiar foot morphology from the Oligocene of Germany and Belgium (Aves: Procellariiformes). J Vertebr Paleontol 22:667–676Google Scholar
  24. Micklich N, Parin N (1996) The fishfauna of Frauenweiler (Middle Oligocene, Rupelian; Germany): first results of a review. Publ Espec Inst Esp Oceanogr 21:129–148Google Scholar
  25. Mourer-Chauviré C (1980) The Archaeotrogonidae of the Eocene and Oligocene phosphorites du Quercy (France). Contrib Sci Nat Hist Mus Los Angeles County 330:17–31Google Scholar
  26. Mourer-Chauviré C (1996) Paleogene avian localities of France. In: Mlíkovský J (ed) Tertiary avian localities of Europe. Acta Univ Carol 39:567–598Google Scholar
  27. Mourer-Chauviré C, Hugueney M, Jonet P (1989) Découverte de passeriformes dans l’Oligocène supérieur de France. C R Acad Sci Paris (II) 309:843–849Google Scholar
  28. Noriega JI, Chiappe LM (1993) An early Miocene passeriform from Argentina. Auk 110:936–938Google Scholar
  29. Olson SL (1985) The fossil record of birds. In: Farner DS, King JR, Parkes KC (eds) Avian biology, vol. 8. Academic Press, New York, pp 79–238Google Scholar
  30. Olson SL (1989) Aspects of global avifaunal dynamics during the Cenozoic. In: Ouellet H (ed) Acta XIX congressus internationalis ornithologici. University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, pp 2023–2029Google Scholar
  31. Roux T (2002) Deux fossiles d’oiseaux de l’Oligocène inférieur du Luberon. Courr Sci Parc Nat Luberon 6:38–57Google Scholar
  32. Russell DE, Tobien H (1986) Mammalian evidence concerning the Eocene-Oligocene transition in Europe, North America and Asia. In: Pomerol C, Premoli-Silva I (eds) Terminal eocene events. Elsevier Science, Amsterdam, pp 299–307Google Scholar
  33. Stevens GR (1991) Geological evolution and biotic links in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic of the southwestern Pacific. In: Bell B, Cossee RO, Flux JEC, Heather BD, Hitchmough RA, Robertson CJR, Williams MJ (eds) Acta XX congressus internationalis ornithologici. New Zealand Ornithological Congress Trust Board, Christchurch, pp 361–382Google Scholar
  34. Trunkó L, Munk W (1998) Geologische Beobachtungen in drei tertiären Aufschlußkomplexen im Randbereich des Mittleren Rheingrabens. Carolinea 56:9–28Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sektion OrnithologieForschungsinstitut Senckenberg Frankfurt-am-MainGermany
  2. 2.Institut für Biologie/ZoologieFU BerlinBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations