Fossil discovery sheds light on unknown bird

03:06, Jan 22 2014
Australornis lovei
DISCOVERY: An artist's impression of newly found seabird fossil Australornis lovei, believed to be one of the oldest flying seabirds in the world.

Canterbury was home to one of the oldest flying seabirds, fossil hunters from Canterbury Museum have discovered.

Dr Paul Scofield, from the Canterbury Museum, and Dr Gerald Mayr, from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, published their findings this week in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Bones of the previously unknown species were found in Waipara by Leigh Love, an amateur fossil collector from the region. As the discoverer, the species was named after him: Australornis lovei.

Scofield said the bird was estimated to have lived between 60.5 and 61.6 million years ago, based on the age of the surrounding deposits.

This suggested the fossil formed shortly after the event that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs and many marine organisms.

The fossil comes from the same deposits as the world's oldest penguin, estimated to be the same age.

It would have formed in deep waters of a warm sea off the coast of Zealandia, the continental fragment that New Zealand sits on.

The fossilised bird appeared to be similar to two species from the late Cretaceous (about 70 million years ago) from the Antarctic Peninsula.

Scofield said although there were ''a number of bird groups described from the late Cretaceous, most belong to groups not present on earth today''.

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