June 30, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Bird Wings Found in Amber

The modern appearance is empirical. The date is philosophical.

All the science journalists are talking about the bird feathers found in amber (solidified tree sap). The unique specimens from Myanmar (formerly Burma), announced in Nature Communications, provide the clearest evidence yet for bird feather structure and color in fossils. The asymmetrical flight feathers, with claws on the wing tips, indicate that the extinct birds that were strong flyers. Some secondary feathers, tissue and bone were also preserved, including the alula. The remains are said to be mummified, but no original biological material was reported. The feathers show patterning with stripes and spots, and for the first time in amber, show attachments to bone, giving paleontologists additional anatomical details to work with.

The bones are smaller than those of hummingbirds, yet show remarkable feather development. Noting claw scratches in the amber, the researchers from China and Canada surmise that juveniles, finding themselves trapped in the sticky resin, attempted to free themselves. Based on the geology of the site, they assign the fossils to an age of 99 million years, meaning that these birds flew over the heads of dinosaurs that had at least another 30 million years to go. At that time (according to the evolutionary timeline), these must have been enantiornithine birds—already flight-worthy but members of an extinct clade with teeth and claws. The authors also surmise that enantiornithine birds were precocious, maturing faster than modern hatchlings. Their anatomical description “should be treated with some caution,” they say, “given the potential for large-scale ontogenetic changes.”

All the reports find the modern appearance of these feathers noteworthy:

  • Just as with feathers from modern birds, when examined in detail the feathers reveal barbs – the ridged formations on a bird’s feathers – and barbules – tiny hooks on the barbs – that allow the separate feathers to “zip” closely together to form a continuous flight surface so the bird can fly.” (Michael J. Benton, a co-author of the paper, in The Conversation)
  • “Bone, tissue, and feathers show the almost 100-million-year-old wings are remarkably similar to those on modern birds.” (National Geographic)
  • “…the structures and arrangements of the feathers were similar to those seen in modern birds.” (Rachel Becker in Nature)
  • “These fossil wings show amazing detail. The individual feathers show every filament and whisker, whether they are flight feathers or down feathers, and there are even traces of colour — spots and stripes.” (Science Daily)
  • “Moreover, the findings are the first concrete examples of follicles, feather tracts and bare skin from Cretaceous period birds, they said.” (Live Science)
  • “It really looks like the common ancestor shared between modern birds and the Enantiornithes is exactly where many of the features that we see in modern bird flight evolved,” says Richard Prum at Yale University. (New Scientist)

These feathers and bones look very modern, and fully flight-capable, except for the assigned age. Are the scientists certain they belong to the Enantiornithine group? The remains are not complete enough for a definitive classification, but “The extremely small size and osteological development of the wings, combined with their digit proportions, strongly suggests that the remains represent precocial hatchlings of enantiornithine birds,” they say. They may well be correct, but like Richard Prum noted, it pushes the origin of “many of the features that we see in modern flight” back into some “common ancestor” of Enantiornithines and modern birds into the unobserved past.

BM-lightclickThe authors say nothing about evolution in the paper, but PhysOrg speculates, “The researchers are hoping further study will shed more light on the middle stage of the evolutionary development of flight—between gliding and full powered flying.”

TV shows, books and movies continually portray birds taking off after the dinosaurs went extinct. We are told that “birds are dinosaurs,” the living remnants of the great beasts that morphed into parakeets over millions of years. The well-read know that numerous extinct birds, including Archeopteryx, are said to be 50 million years earlier than these fossils, so the more nuanced Darwinian tale is that birds had to figure out how to fly and take on modern looks for a long, long, long time, but immediately took center stage after the asteroid came and became everything from ostriches to hummingbirds to penguins lightning fast, all by accumulated mistakes. Ditto for mammals.

BM-tweetyclickBut consider the tricks Darwinians play with the data. For one, they always find modernity earlier than expected, so they push the unempirical “common ancestor” of the traits further back in their scheme. Knowing that it’s impossible for a scientist to experience a million years, they use time as a magic wand for their miracles (mutations leading to powered flight being a prime example). The names they give to species and periods of time reify them, making them take on a significance beyond their empirical justification. What does “Enantiornithine” mean except “opposite bird” in Latin? Who called it that? Why? So what? Who cares? If scientists used the English equivalents and called them “Opposite Birds” at every turn, they would be laughed at. That’s the power of jargon. “Enantiornithine” sounds so… so scientific.

There are birds with claws on their wings today, like the hoatzin. No modern birds have teeth, but teeth are arguably more complex than beaks, so why not say that modern birds devolved from their ancestors? Another trick is to focus on the trivia, like arrangement of the digits, and overlook the significa, the origin of powered flight. They strain at gnats to swallow camels. Watch Flight: The Genius of Birds and look what goes into flight muscles, skeletons, and those hooks on the feather barbules. How can anyone believe those are all accidental innovations that chance arrived at? Most deceptively, evolutionary scientists insist these modern-looking feathers are 99 million years old, when they know full well that increasing discoveries of dinosaur soft tissues, blood vessels and osteocytes scream out for younger ages (thousands, not millions).

Nothing about the fossils “looks” 99 million years old. Without materialists’ obsession to shove all evidence into a Darwin-glorifying scheme, you might pick up this piece of amber, look at it, and think that a poor little bird got stuck in tree sap a few years ago. It takes wizards trained in Darwin’s dark arts to convince you otherwise. We think evidence should speak for itself.

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  • andreigbs says:

    Interesting that the amber is 99 m.y.o., not 100, not 98, but precisely 99. I would be interested to see their specific data on how they arrived at that assigned age. Other discoveries which aren’t this “puzzling” give date ranges of 10-20 m.y., yet this one is without a doubt, positively and undeniably 99 m.y.o. Fascinating!

    One would be led to perform an actual comparison to modern birds on a skeletal basis as well as plumage to see how close they actually are to known birds of today.

    On the teeth in birds issue, some might argue Greylag geese have a kind of toothy rim on their beaks, while the Adelie penguins have teeth-like structures on their tongues. There are other species of birds that have tooth-like structures as well, so to say that birds went from having crocodilian-like teeth in the distant unknowable past to having no teeth today as a process of evolution is faulty logic, complete with ignoring both present evidence and believing stories and drawings by evolutionary scientists that are based on assumptions.

    In essence, birds’ beaks have been shown to adapt to their environment. They do not evolve, rather the diverse genes they already possess are expressed as needed due to their natural environment and pressures. This is not natural selection, it is merely employing what their genetic code already provides for.

    This genetic code is given to each “kind” by the Almighty Creator, whether man, animal or plant, and we see the evidence in beautiful diversity displayed on the face of the earth, though marred by sin and its effects.

    It’s all a matter of perspective: do we see it as evidence of God’s creative power or do we see it as blind, random acts of chance that truly have no realistic mathematical chance of happening even in a hundred billion years?

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