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Dinosaurs ate birds

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Published: 13 November 2012 (GMT+10)
Illustration by Caleb Salisbury

For years we’ve been hearing, from various authorities on evolution, that dinosaurs gave rise to birds. E.g.,

  • 1973, John Ostrom, writing in Nature journal, revives the dino-to-bird idea attributed to Charles Darwin’s friend Thomas H. Huxley: “Inasmuch as the Thecodontia include the most primitive as well as the most ancient archosaurs known, it is highly probable that all subsequent archosaurs (including birds) were derived from members of this order.”1
  • 1998, Paul Willis, writing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website: “In a nutshell, the majority of palaeontologists working on the ancestry of birds agree that dinosaurs, particularly small theropods, are the grandparents of present-day parrots, partridges and pigeons. There are some detractors to this emerging orthodoxy but the dino-bird theory is supported by both the most widely used methodology (cladistics) and a rapidly growing collection of primitive birds and advanced meat-eating dinosaurs. A reasonable assessment of the debate would have to conclude that it’s all over, including the shouting, in favour of dino-birds.”2
  • 2005, John R. Horner: “If there are any people left who do not believe birds came from dinosaurs, I would put them in the same group as the Flat Earth Society.”3
  • 2009, Xu Xing under the headline Feathered fossils prove birds evolved from dinosaurs, say Chinese scientists: “This fossil provides confirmation that the bird-dinosaur hypothesis is correct and supports the idea that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs, the group of predatory dinosaurs that include allosaurus and velociraptor.”4
  • 2011, Laurence Pringle in the book Billions of Years, Amazing Changes: “Some of the most exciting news about evolution today is that more and more of these ‘missing links’ are no longer missing. One example comes from the evolution of birds from dinosaurs—an idea suggested by Thomas Huxley, a friend of Charles Darwin. (A close look at the skeletons of a small dinosaur and a bird reveals that they have many features in common.)”5

To be fair to the supporters of the evolutionary paradigm, not all proponents of evolution agreed with the above (and many other) proclamations that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Most notable of these was avian paleobiologist Alan Feduccia. He and others spoke out publicly against the idea, pointing out the many difficulties with dino-to-bird evolution—which we were very happy to include in our many articles rebutting bird evolution claims. See Did birds really evolve from dinosaurs?

In fact, the notion that flight-capable birds could have evolved from any non-bird stretches credulity to the extreme. Given how long it took human engineers, with all their technical prowess, to intentionally design craft capable of acceptably safe, powered flight (and they’re still trying to emulate the landing and in-flight control finesse that birds have, in order to improve safety), evolutionists would be looking to invoke long time periods for their claimed time-and-chance processes to work their ‘magic’.

However, recent discoveries of the contents of dinosaur stomachs pose a gut-wrenching challenge to the idea that dinosaurs gave rise to birds. Because it now turns out that dinosaurs ate them.

“Capable of powered flight”

A fossil of the theropod dinosaur Sinocalliopteryx gigas found in Liaoning, China, was sufficiently well preserved that researchers were able to make out its intact belly contents.6 They were able to see the last thing it had eaten—a bird dinner. As the bird had only been partially digested (indicating death of the Sinocalliopteryx had occurred not long after its last meal) the researchers were even able to identify the species of the bird: Confuciusornis sanctus. This was a bird “capable of powered flight”—and it had a beak as well.7

A beaked bird capable of powered flight, living alongside dinosaurs. Living so close to dinos in fact, as to be able to be swallowed by them.

Did the Sinocalliopteryx happen across a Confuciusornis carcass, and opportunistically scavenge it? No, say the researchers, for two reasons.

First, the dino’s Confuciusornis dinner showed “a high degree of articulation”, i.e. bones still joined to each other, indicating that when eaten, it was “at least fresh enough not to have disarticulated.”

Second, that bird specimen was not the only one found in the dinosaur’s stomach. There was another Confuciusornis sanctus carcass as well, and “both were in a similar state of partial digestion”. Given that “remains as delicate as small bird bones have presumably short digestion periods”, the researchers conclude, logically enough, that the two Confuciusornis birds must have been consumed in fairly rapid succession, “in order for the first individual not to have had time to be digested noticeably beyond that of the second.”

What’s more, the dino’s abdominal contents included a third bird, in a somewhat more advanced state of digestion, which the researchers say might also have been a Confuciusornis. (Hence why the researchers refer to “at least two [Confuciusornis] individuals” [emphasis added].)

So, arguing against scavenging as the source of the three bird dinners, the researchers speculate that the “association of two or more birds is perhaps more easily explained by selective hunting than by the chance discovery of multiple C. sanctus carcasses” and “it is improbable that every individual organism represented within the gut contents was consumed exclusively as a result of scavenging, as true obligate tetrapod scavengers are rare.”

Speaking to the media, one of the researchers, paleontologist Scott Persons, put it more bluntly: “The fact that this Sinocalliopteryx had not one but three undigested birds in its stomach indicates it was a voracious eater and a very active hunter.”

A hunter. Of birds that could fly. Birds that didn’t just glide, but flew with powered flight.

Beware of ‘spin’!

The difficulties this raises for the millions-of-years dino-to-bird idea are obvious. No wonder the researchers (and others) were careful to ‘spin’ the findings in various ways, to minimize the damage to the evolutionary paradigm.

For example the researchers referred to Confuciusornis as being ‘primitive’—“the primitive avialan”, to be exact. They also said “Confuciusornis and other Jehol birds were not as well adapted for flight as modern aves”. (The term ‘Jehol’ is used by evolutionists to refer to all creatures represented in the fossils of northeastern China ‘dated’ to around 120–133 million years ago.) As the news media relayed it: “The primitive birds were probably limited to slow take-offs and short flights”, “had not yet mastered the art of fast take-offs”, being “slow-flying birds”.

roflzoo.com

But what evidence is there for that? None.

Anatomically, Confuciusornis can in no way be considered ‘primitive’ compared to ‘modern’ birds. There’s no basis for saying it was a ‘slow’ flyer, with ‘slow’ take-offs.

In fact, the authors themselves address the likely objection to their findings from their own evolutionary colleagues that “active hunting of flight-capable prey by a land-bound predator may seem intrinsically implausible” by pointing out some of the many examples evident today.

Foxes, for example, are expert bird hunters. As are many of the cats. “The black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) of southern Africa routinely ambushes and chases down cursorial birds before they are able to become airborne.” Servals (Leptailurus serval) are adept at “snagging fleeing birds midair.”

And lest anyone seek to deflect this argument by saying that dinosaurs are reptiles, the researchers point out that “monitor lizards and various snakes consume birds in both arboreal and terrestrial contexts.”

So there’s no reason why dinosaurs couldn’t have captured flight-capable birds, either. And in fact Sinocalliopteryx is not the first dino to have been discovered with bird remains in its gut. In November last year this headline in the UK’s Daily Mail aptly broke the news: “First proof of bird-eating dinosaur has scientists in a flap”.8

That news was based on a scientific paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which the researchers report on “a unique specimen of the small nonavian theropod Microraptor gui from the Early Cretaceous Jehol biota, China, which has the remains of an adult enantiornithine bird preserved in its abdomen, most likely not scavenged, but captured and consumed by the dinosaur.”9 Well, it’s hardly ‘unique’ any more, now that Sinocalliopteryx is known to be another bird-eating dinosaur.

And if the discovery of Microraptor’s propensity for eating birds was sufficient to put evolutionary scientists ‘in a flap’, then how much more so now with Sinocalliopteryx. Dinosaurs ate adult, flight-capable birds—one can imagine the angst this generates amongst the evolutionary fraternity behind the dinos-gave-rise-to-birds idea. And this is not the first time that fossil discoveries have upset the supposed bird evolution timeline. Bird fossils that pre-date their supposed ancestors have repeatedly put the evolutionary cart-before-horse, and in fact the Jehol fossil group has already been ‘re-dated’ in the past to try and salvage the bird origins claims and other aspects of the evolutionary storyline.

Try as they might, however, salvage isn’t going to be easy. That’s because it’s not the evolutionary paradigm that explains bird origins, but rather the biblical account of history. A history that says that birds preceded land animals (rather than the reverse, as evolution claims). A history that also describes a global catastrophic event (the Flood of Noah’s day) that beautifully explains not only the exquisitely preserved gut contents of the Liaoning fossilised creatures of the Jehol group, but fossils worldwide, too.

Liaoning is proving to be a ‘Godsend’ for creationists. It sure is a long way from 9 November 2002, when evolutionist Paul Willis gloatingly said on a Radio National broadcast in Australia:

“If proof were still needed about the truth of evolution, the treasure trove of feathered dinosaurs found at Laioning [sic—Liaoning] in China would definitely be the clincher. … Laioning was created by God to show us all how much he hates creationists.”10

References

  1. Ostrom, J., The ancestry of birds, Nature 242(5393): 136–136, 1973. Return to text.
  2. http://www.abc.net.au/science/slab/dinobird/story.htm, 1998 (accessed 2 September 2012). Return to text.
  3. Schudel, M., Dinosaur expert John Ostrom dies, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/21/AR2005072102218.html, 22 July 2005. Return to text.
  4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1215998/Feathered-fossils-prove-birds-evolved-dinosaurs-say-Chinese-scientists.html, 25 September 2009. Return to text.
  5. Page 57. For our rebuttal comments on this and the rest of the contents of the book, see https://creation.com/review-pringle-billions-of-years-amazing-changes, 22 May 2012. Return to text.
  6. Xing, L., Bell, P., Persons, W., Ji, S., Miyashita, T., et al., Abdominal Contents from Two Large Early Cretaceous Compsognathids (Dinosauria: Theropoda) Demonstrate Feeding on Confuciusornithids and Dromaeosaurids, PLoS ONE 7(8): e44012. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044012, 29 August 2012, plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0044012?imageURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0044012.t001. Return to text.
  7. Dinosaur ‘ate low-flying birds’, Press Association, uk.news.yahoo.com/dinosaur-ate-slow-flying-birds-210445387.html, 29 August 2012. Return to text.
  8. Thornhill, T., First proof of bird-eating dinosaur has scientists in a flap, www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2064952/Microraptor-First-proof-bird-eating-dinosaur-scientists-flap.html, 23 November 2011. Return to text.
  9. O’Connor, J., Zhou, Z. and Xu, X., Additional specimen of Microraptor provides unique evidence of dinosaurs preying on birds, PNAS, pnas.org/content/early/2011/11/17/1117727108.full.pdf+html, 21 November 2011. Return to text.
  10. China’s Fabulous Dinobirds, The Science Show, ABC, 9 November 2002. Return to text.

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