Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 90, Issue 4, pp 395–403 | Cite as

Reappraisal of Eocypselus—a stem group apodiform from the early Eocene of Northern Europe

  • Gerald Mayr
Original Paper


Eocypselus vincenti is a small swift-like bird from the early Eocene of England and Denmark, whose phylogenetic affinities are controversial. Here, a new skeleton from the Danish Fur Formation is reported, in which for the first time the skull and pelvis are preserved. Further described are previously overlooked features of the other Fur Formation specimens, which bear on the systematic position of the species. It is detailed that E. vincenti falls outside crown group Apodiformes and represents the earliest diverging apodiform bird, with its osteology providing a link between that of apodiform birds and their morphologically disparate sister taxon, the Aegothelidae (owlet-nightjars). The poorly developed processus internus indicis on the proximal phalanx of the major wing digit indicates that Eocypselus had less elongated outer primaries than extant Apodiformes. Together with differences in the pectoral girdle, such as the lack of a coracoid/furcula articulation, this suggests that the fossil taxon was less well adapted than its extant relatives to feeding on the wing.


Fossil birds Apodiformes Fur Formation Denmark London Clay England 



I am indebted to Gilles Cuny and Sten Lennart Jakobsen (both MGUH) for the loan of the fragile Fur Formation fossils. Sandra Chapman (NHM) provided access to the London Clay specimen of Eocypselus vincenti. I further thank Olaf Vogel for preparation of the silicone peel of MGUH 29278, and Sven Tränkner for taking the photographs. Reviews by Zlatozar Boev and Trevor Worthy improved the manuscript.


  1. 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
  2. Brown JW, Mindell DP (2009) Swifts, treeswifts, and hummingbirds (Apodiformes). In: Hedges SB, Kumar S (eds) The time tree of life. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 454–456Google Scholar
  3. del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J (eds) (1999) Handbook of the birds of the world, vol 5. Barn-owls to hummingbirds. Lynx Edicions, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  4. Dyke GJ, Waterhouse DM, Kristoffersen AV (2004) Three new fossil landbirds from the early Paleogene of Denmark. Bull Geol Soc Denmark 51:47–56Google Scholar
  5. Feduccia A (1999) The origin and evolution of birds, 2nd edn. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  6. Harrison CJO (1984) A revision of the fossil swifts (Vertebrata, Aves, suborder Apodi), with descriptions of three new genera and two new species. Meded Werkgr Tert Kwart Geol 21:157–177Google Scholar
  7. Karhu A (1988) Novoye semeystvo strizheobraznykh iz paleogena Yevropy (A new family of swift-like birds from the Paleogene of Europe). Paleontol J 3:78–88Google Scholar
  8. Kristoffersen AV (1997) New records of perching birds from the latest Paleocene/earliest Eocene Fur Formation of Denmark. Dansk Geologisk Forening, Online Series 1. Available at: Accessed 15 June 2010
  9. Kristoffersen AV (2002) The avian diversity in the latest Paleocene—earliest Eocene Fur Formation, Denmark. A synopsis. PhD thesis. University of Copenhagen, Geological Institute, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  10. Mayr G (2002) Osteological evidence for paraphyly of the avian order Caprimulgiformes (nightjars and allies). J Ornithol 143:82–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Mayr G (2003a) Phylogeny of early Tertiary swifts and hummingbirds (Aves: Apodiformes). Auk 120:145–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Mayr G (2003b) A new Eocene swift-like bird with a peculiar feathering. Ibis 145:382–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Mayr G (2005) A new cypselomorph bird from the Middle Eocene of Germany and the early diversification of avian aerial insectivores. Condor 107:342–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mayr G (2009) Paleogene fossil birds. Springer, HeidelbergCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mayr G (2010) Phylogenetic relationships of the paraphyletic “caprimulgiform” birds (nightjars and allies). J Zool Syst Evol Res 48:126–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mlíkovský J (2002) Cenozoic birds of the world. Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, PrahaGoogle Scholar
  17. Mourer-Chauviré C (1988) Les Aegialornithidae (Aves: Apodiformes) des Phosphorites du Quercy. Comparaison avec la forme de Messel. Cour Forsch-Inst Senckenberg 107:369–381Google Scholar
  18. 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
  19. Stegmann B (1963) Der Processus internus indicis im Skelett des Vogelflügels. J Ornithol 104:413–423CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Senckenberg, Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forschungsinstitut SenckenbergSektion OrnithologieFrankfurt am MainGermany

Personalised recommendations