Nowadays it’s common knowledge that birds are a surviving group of dinosaurs. All the avian creatures around today, from ostriches to hummingbirds, are descendants of very bird-like species similar to the movie star Velociraptor and the famous “first bird”, Archaeopteryx. But even though some birds did survive the cataclysmic event that wiped out their cousins, it wasn’t all birds that made the cut.
Living among the other dinosaurs were very strange birds, including some with teeth and clawed fingers. Yet only a few bird lineages survived the extinction, with all the ones alive today tracing their ancestry back to these hardy groups. For a while, scientists thought this radiation from the ancestral stock to all the 10,000 species alive today took quite a bit of time to take off.
But a tiny fossil found in New Mexico shows that this evolutionary boom started happening quite earlier than originally thought. About the size of a sparrow, Tsidiiyazhi abini (“little morning bird” in the Navajo language, as an homage to the ancestral residents of the land it was found in) lived between 62.5 and 62.2 million years ago. That’s not very long after the asteroid hit, and the remarkable thing is that Tsidiiyazhi looks pretty much like a bird you can see at any park. In fact, it’s a relative of mousebirds, a group of small birds that live in Africa to this day.