A 52-million-year fossil of a "perching bird" has been found in Wyoming with its feathers still attached, a discovery that "no one's ever seen before."
Also known as passerines, the perching bird was discovered in Fossil Lake, WY. Passerines are well-known for eating seeds, as most modern-day birds do and account for approximately 65 percent of the 10,000 different species of birds alive today.
"This is one of the earliest known perching birds. It's fascinating because passerines today make up most of all bird species, but they were extremely rare back then. This particular piece is just exquisite," said Field Museum Neguanee Distinguished Service Curator Lance Grande, author of a paper on the bird, in a statement. "It is a complete skeleton with the feathers still attached, which is extremely rare in the fossil record of birds."
The study has been published in the scientific journal Current Biology.
Now known as Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi, the bird had a "finch-like beak," similar to modern day finches and sparrows, which could give clues as to its diet.
"These bills are particularly well-suited for consuming small, hard seeds," Daniel Ksepka, the paper's lead author, curator at the Bruce Museum in Connecticut, said in the statement.
"The earliest birds probably ate insects and fish, some may have been eating small lizards," Grande added. "Until this discovery, we did not know much about the ecology of early passerines. E. boudreauxi gives us an important look at this."
Fossil Lake has been home to several discoveries of past species, including birds, reptiles and early mammals, due in large part to what has been described as "perfect conditions."
"We have spent so much time excavating this locality, that we have a record of even the very rare things," Grande said.
Fossil Lake provides a rare look into a world after the dinosaurs went extinct, but before mammals really started to take off and become the dominant form of life on Earth.
"I've been going to Fossil Lake every year for the last 35 years, and finding this bird is one of the reasons I keep going back. It's so rich," Grande added. "We keep finding things that no one's ever seen before."