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I'm an invertebrate paleontologist with a tantalising curiosity concerning
the origin of the birds. I enjoy the daily dialogue on the subject but
rarely participate because of my limited knowledge and available time.

Primitive paleognathus "birds" are found early in the Tertiary in both
flying and flightless forms. Paleognath, flightless New Zealand ratities
appear to have radiated in isolation, without mammalian or marsupial
competition. The recently extinct moa was such a flighless paleognath,
recorded fossil from the Pliocene onward. Moa posessed no wing bones (not
even vestigiel ones); had a reduced tail (no pygostyle); did not possess a
furcula; had a "stringy" type of feather more suited to body insulation /
protection than flying; laid large eggs in a ground nest; had robust
powerful leg bones and large clawed feet for running; was the tallest "bird"
to have lived in Recent times; and by D.N.A expression is the oldest of the
Recent ratites .

Was it really a "bird", or was it a true dinosaur (perhaps many times
derived?), continuing to eek out an existance in a refugium that was once
part of Gondwana, now known as New Zealand (and by the cinema as "The Lost
World")? It looks like a dinosaur to me and I'm sure that cladistics would
prove this right in the present light of dinosaurian morphology. The fused
metatarsus in birds vs. dinosaurs may be a stumbling block to the dinosaur
suggestion! What do some of the more knowledgeable vertebrate specialists

I'm not an ABSRD (anything-but-a small-running-dinosaur) advocate, neither
am I a BAND (birds are not dinosaurs) fan. The more I consider the evidence,
such as the advanced aerodynamics of Archaeopteryx feathers, I too tend to
think that some birds may have begun to evolve sometime in the Middle to
Late Triassic. From what, I have no idea (and neither, it would seem, does
anyone else!). That does not mean that scondary radiations from other
theropods after this, did not also eventuate. Anything seems possible given
the great diversity of evidence now available.  

Michael K. Eagle B.Sc. M.Sc. MRSNZ
Research Associate
Natural History
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Private Bag 92018

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