1979 Edition


  • Hildegarde Howard
Reference work entry

Approximately 985 extinct species of birds (Class Aves) have been described from all fossil deposits in the world. A nearly equal number of still-existing species is found in the geologic record. Their combined total, however, is less than one-fourth the number of avian species living in the world today. Since the record of birds spans a period of nearly 140 m yr, it is obvious that there is still much to learn about the birds of the past.

The fragility of avian material complicates the problem of fossil preservation in this group. Fossil egg shells, footprints, and imprints of feathers are recorded but contribute little toward classification of the birds responsible for them. Identification of fossil avian species is based largely on skeletal fragments, particularly limb bones.

The study of fossil birds, therefore, depends upon a detailed knowledge of the separate skeletal elements of the various orders, families, and genera of living birds. Although ornithologists have recognized the...

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© Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc. 1979

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  • Hildegarde Howard

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