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‘Dinosaur-killing asteroid wiped out ancient birds’

world Updated: Sep 19, 2011 01:04 IST

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The catastrophic meteor strike that killed dinosaurs on Earth some 65 million years ago may also have wiped out ancient birds, scientists say.

Paleontologists who examined fossils of ancient birds found that many of the archaic birds died off at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

According to the researchers, nearly all the modern bird groups, from owls to penguins and so on, began to emerge within 15 million years after all the dinosaurs went extinct.

These birds are subtly but significantly different from many of the ancient lineages that existed before a cosmic impact that wreaked havoc around the globe at the end of the Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago, they said.

“These archaic birds superficially looked very similar to modern birds, but underneath their feathers they were completely different,” study researcher Nicholas Longrich, a vertebrate paleontologist at Yale University, was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

“Some of them had teeth. Some of their joints were built backward compared to modern birds, so they may have flown in a different way.”

Although scientists had suspected that many ancient bird lineages went extinct along with a host of other creatures at the end of the Cretaceous, “the fossil evidence was kind of vague,” Longrich noted.

This uncertainty left open the possibility that such birds actually began dying off gradually well before the mass extinction.

To help clear up this mystery, Longrich and his team investigated ancient bird fossils from a variety of museums in the US and Canada.

They identified seven species of archaic birds, which lived within 1.5 million years of the asteroid impact.