While Dinosaurs Romped, Birdsongs Filled the Air in Balmy Antarctica

From Scientific American:

“This is the first fossil evidence of the vocalization apparatus of a bird of the Mesozoic era,” says paleontologist Fernando Novas, a researcher at the National Scientific and Technological Research Council here. “It belonged to an extinct genus of birds called Vegavis iaai, which lived on today’s Vega Island, north of the Antarctic Peninsula. This animal was about 40 centimeters long, resembled a duck and coexisted there with the dinosaurs.”

It is not yet known exactly how birds evolved, how they learned to fly or how they diversified over millions of years to end up living among us. Paleontologists know that birds descend from dinosaurs, but not from all of them. “We want to know [about] that sequence, which began 240 million years ago. How is it that these animals with whom we share the planet today acquired their traits?” says Novas, who is also the director of the Department of Comparative Anatomy at the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences.

Until recently this field of work and study of the evolutionary history of modern birds was restricted to researchers from Germany, the U.K., the U.S. and China. But the latest findings in the Southern Hemisphere are changing this situation. This new work started in a territory whose omnipresent ice and low temperatures make for harrowing working conditions. “In 1992 we explored an area north of James Ross Island, about 60 kilometers from Argentina’s Antarctic Marambio base,” recalls geologist Daniel Martinioni of the University of Buenos Aires. “We noticed some 70-million-year-old rocks that showed a few hollow bones breaking the surface.”

After years of preparation and delicate removal of the rock, researchers realized they had in their hands the ancient remains of a bird. With the collaboration of U.S. paleontologist Julia Clarke, a specialist in the early evolution of these animals, the material was …

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