, Volume 90, Issue 4, pp 747–763 | Cite as

The world’s smallest owl, the earliest unambiguous charadriiform bird, and other avian remains from the early Eocene Nanjemoy Formation of Virginia (USA)

  • Gerald Mayr
Research Paper


New avian remains from the early Eocene Nanjemoy Formation in Virginia (USA) are described. The material stems from the Fisher/Sullivan site and consists of isolated bones. These belong to at least 13 species, most of which have not yet been reported from the Nanjemoy Formation. The fossil material includes the oldest unambiguous record of a charadriiform bird and a new species of protostrigid owl, which represents the smallest known owl species. Other specimens are tentatively assigned to the Procellariiformes, the suliform Fregatidae, the gruiform Messelornithidae, and the apodiform Eocypselidae. A complete and well-preserved tarsometatarsus of the psittacopasserine Halcyornithidae provides new data on the osteology of these enigmatic birds, and a distal tibiotarsus is tentatively assigned to the Trogoniformes. The identification of a number of fossils is uncertain, with the bones showing similarities to Threskiornithidae and extinct taxa from the early Eocene of Europe (Microena, Morsoravis). All bird fossils from the Nanjemoy Formation are three-dimensionally preserved and, therefore, allow a detailed assessment of osteological features, which complements studies of compression fossils from lagerstätten-type fossil sites.


Fossil birds Fisher/Sullivan site Ypresian Charadriiformes Eostrix Halcyornithidae 


Neue Vogelreste werden aus der untereozänen Nanjemoy-Formation in Virginia (USA) beschrieben. Das Material stammt aus der Fisher/Sullivan-Fundstelle und besteht aus Einzelknochen. Diese gehören zu mindestens 13 Arten, von denen die meisten noch nicht aus der Nanjemoy-Formation beschrieben wurden. Das Fossilmaterial beinhaltet den ältesten unzweifelhaften Nachweis eines charadriiformen Vogels und einen neuen Vertreter der Protostrigidae, welcher zudem die kleinste bekannte Eulenart darstellt. Andere Exemplare werden unter Vorbehalt zu den Procellariiformes gestellt, sowie zu den suliformen Fregatidae, den gruiformen Messelornithidae und den apodiformen Eocypselidae. Ein vollständiger und gut erhaltener Tarsometatarsus der Halcyornithidae (Psittacopasseres) liefert neue Daten über die Osteologie dieser rätselhaften Vögel und ein distaler Tibiotarsus wird unter Vorbehalt zu den Trogoniformes gestellt. Die Identifizierung einer Reihe von Fossilien ist unsicher und die Knochen weisen Ähnlichkeiten zu Threskiornithidae und ausgestorbenen Taxa aus dem europäischen Untereozän auf (Microena, Morsoravis). Alle Vogelfossilien der Nanjemoy-Formation sind dreidimensional erhalten und erlauben damit eine detaillierte Bewertung osteologischer Merkmale, welche Untersuchungen von Kompressionsfossilien aus lagerstättenartigen Fundstellen ergänzt.


Fossile Vögel Fisher/Sullivan-Fundstelle Ypresium Charadriiformes Eostrix Halcyornithidae 



First and foremost, I am indebted to Marco Gulotta for collecting the specimens described in the present study and for generously donating them to SMF. I further thank Sven Tränkner (SMF) for taking the photographs. Comments by P. Scofield and the editor, Mike Reich, improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Paläontologische Gesellschaft 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, Ornithological SectionFrankfurt am MainGermany

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