November 19, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Early Fossil Bird Feathers Were Modern and Colorful

The predicted gradual sequence from fuzz to flight remains mythical, as modern feathers show up too early for Darwin’s comfort.

In “Plumage evolution: Explaining the vivid colors of birds,” Science Daily presumes to tell its readers how feather colors evolved. Cue the Darwin narrator:

During his notable trip to the Galápagos Islands, Charles Darwin collected several mockingbird specimens on different islands in the region. He later discovered that each island only contained a single species of mockingbird and no two species of mockingbird co-existed on an individual island. Due to their geographical separation, over time these birds had evolved different characteristics in coloration, behavior, and beak shape.

That obligation out of the way, the reporter turns to a modern evolutionary question: “how does a geographical region influence the evolution of a species?” Specifically, “do birds evolve to become more colorful when they move to the tropics?” Surprisingly, they do not. Nicholas Friedman inventoried birds in Australia’s habitats and found the presumption due to a selection bias; people notice the colorful species, but “bird species do not evolve more colorful feathers in the tropics compared to their cousins in temperate climates.” In fact, the desert birds tend to be more colorful, he found. This confounds evolutionary expectations. Cue the Darwin confabulator: “Since desert birds have to scramble for mates during the wet season, we think they may be evolving colors that can attract mates quickly,” Friedman says, finding a way to insert natural selection for camouflage into the narrative, too.

Fossil Color

Vivid colors have now been found in a fossil “dino-bird” (actually, a bird) dated at 120 million years old (early Cretaceous). The BBC News says that this enantiornithine bird fossil from China contains evidence of melanosomes that can create the iridescent colors of today’s flashy birds. In fact, the scientists who found it think that this bird “puffed up its feathers like a peacock.” The article says, “The bird’s feathers are ‘remarkably preserved, including the chemical that gave them sparkle.” This is “the first time evidence for iridescence has been found in enantiornithines,” a museum curator says of its “extravagant feather array.” Cue the Darwin confabulator again: “The colouration is used by birds today mostly for sexual selection.”

The abstract in Paleontology describes additional modern characteristics of this Early Cretaceous specimen, as well as preservation of the original melanin pigment:

Brilliant colour displays and diverse feather morphologies that are often sexual ornaments are common throughout much of extant Avialae. Here we describe a new basal enantiornithine bird specimen recovered from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning Province in northeastern China. We present new information on the plumage of Bohaiornithidae as well as the first detailed colour reconstruction of an enantiornithine bird. The new specimen retains subadult skeletal characteristics, including periosteal pitting of the long bone epiphyses and unfused elements, while also preserving plumage evidence consistent with sexual maturity at the time of death. Exceptionally-preserved feathers cover the body, including elongate crown feathers, body contour feathers, asymmetrically-veined wing primaries, an alula and two elongate rachis-dominated rectrices that may have been sexual ornaments. The crown, neck, and body contour feathers retain elongate melanosome morphologies associated with weakly iridescent colouration in extant feathers. We provide additional evidence of preserved melanin using Raman spectroscopy; a rapid, non-destructive chemical technique. The new specimen provides data on skeletal ontogeny in the Bohaiornithidae as well as evidence for intraspecific communication functions of plumage.

If it had body contour feathers, asymmetrical primary feathers and an alula (a set of bones on the front of the wing for reducing air turbulence), it was a strong flyer. Dinosaurs didn’t fly. Why did the BBC call it a “dino-bird” then? “The animal belongs to a group of early birds known as enantiornithines, which lived during the Age of the Dinosaurs,” reporter Helen Briggs writes. Some mammals lived then, too, but we don’t call them dino-mammals.

All known specimens come from rocks in Liaoning, China, which have yielded numerous fossils of feathered dinosaurs, primitive birds and pterosaurs,” she says. Primitive is in the eye of the beholder. This flying bird does not look primitive, nor do other ones called “feathered dinosaurs” that either had “integumentary structures” (not true feathers) or were extinct flying birds. As for coloration, Briggs admits, “Scientists have limited knowledge of the plumage of birds from the time of the dinosaurs.” If this “early bird” had modern colorations, though, how “early” could its decorations have been, really? Enantiornithines supposedly first appeared in the Early Cretaceous; here’s one from that period that already looks modern.

Learn how the media distort facts to support the Darwin narrative so that you will not be tricked. A “bird from the time of dinosaurs” is not equivalent to a “dino-bird.” We don’t speak of “dino-mammals” or “dino-insects” because those made-up terms wouldn’t fit the evolutionary story.

Once again we find it very suspect that “all known specimens” of the so-called “feathered dinosaurs” come from one province in China.* If a big fossil-making industry is ever unmasked there, we will not be surprised.

*Archaeopteryx from Germany and another species found in Spain seem to belong to the enantiornithine type, but all of them appear to be flyers with (as this article says) modern coloration. Many had claws on their wings and teeth. All those are extinct, but enantiornithine fossils reveal much of the diversity in size and habitat as seen in modern birds. Extinction is not evolution.



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