The Origin of Birds — HHMI BioInteractive Video

The Origin of Birds — HHMI BioInteractive Video

kingdom is made up of major groups
recognized by key traits. Fish have fins. Some land animals have
four legs, others six. And several different
groups have wings. Biologists have long
sought to discover how groups of animals and
their key features evolved. And one of the
greatest mysteries has been the origin of birds. Our world has more
than 10,000 species of birds with feathered wings. Where did birds come from? And how did wings and
feathers first arrive? To find out, scientists have
scoured the fossil record. And they have uncovered
surprising twists in the evolution of birds from
their flightless ancestors. In the past 30 years, we’ve
found a treasure trove of new fossil discoveries. They’ve made the origin of
birds one of the best documented transitions in the
history of life. [BIRD CRIES] I’m fascinated by birds. And as a paleontologist,
I’ve spent my career chasing their evolutionary
origins in the fossil record. Above all else, what makes
birds unique are their wings. They’re made of feathers
that are stiff yet flexible. And bird wings are even more
remarkable than airplane wings, because they can flap, which
allows them to maneuver rapidly and ultimately, defy gravity. The quest to
understand the origin of birds and other animals began
in earnest over 150 years ago. When Charles Darwin wrote
“The Origin of Species”, he argued that every
major group of animals evolved from a pre-existing one. He predicted that we
would find fossils with features that linked
one major group to another. In fact, he staked his
theory of evolution on the existence of
these intermediates. But no fossils were
yet known that revealed these transitions. Then, just two years
later, a marvelous creature was unearthed from a
limestone quarry in Germany. The 150 million year old
fossil, named Archaeopteryx, rocked the scientific world. This Archaeopteryx fossil
is truly remarkable. It preserves in fine detail
feathers along the wing just like those we
see in living birds, and feathers along the tail. But the bony features tell
a very different story. If we look closely, we’ll
see teeth in the jaw, tiny claws preserved
in the hand, and a long bony tail
lacking in living birds, but present in things we think
of as traditionally reptilian. For Darwin, it must have been
an incredible vindication. He predicted that we would
find forms like these. Archaeopteryx pointed
to a close link between birds and reptiles. But which group of reptiles? Flying pterosaurs
have been discovered with light, hollow bones. But their wings are
constructed very differently than the wings of
Archaeopteryx and birds. Here is a tiny pterosaur. And if we take a
closer look at its arm, we’ll make out three small
digits, and a fourth, which is really, really long. The membrane of a pterosaur wing
attaches to this fourth digit, and along its body
and hind limb. In contrast, the wings of
Archaeopteryx and birds have only three digits. And their feathers
attach individually along their arm and hand bones. These differences tell us that
pterosaurs and Archaeopteryx evolved flight independently. Archaeopteryx must
have descended from different reptiles. Thomas Huxley,
Darwin’s champion, was astonished by
Archaeopteryx’s resemblance to a turkey-sized dinosaur
called Compsognathus. Compsognathus’s hand
also had three digits. It had hollow bones
and stood on two legs. Similarities like
these led Huxley to propose that
birds are related to the branch of reptiles
called dinosaurs. But other scientists
questioned this conclusion. Birds appeared so
different from dinosaurs. And some characteristic features
of birds, like wishbones, seemed to be missing
in dinosaurs, but were present
in other reptiles. JACK HORNER: We found
an articulated foot. JULIA CLARKE: When
paleontologist Jack Horner began his career, few
thought that birds could have come from dinosaurs. So Jack, why was it so
hard to believe that birds and dinosaurs were related? JACK HORNER: Most
of the dinosaurs that the public knew
about were really big. Like, you know, this was a
shoulder blade of a sauropod. And sauropods were gigantic. JULIA CLARKE: Scientists
thought that dinosaurs were cold blooded and slow
moving, like other reptiles. JACK HORNER: People
couldn’t imagine dinosaurs being agile, hopping around. They look at these big,
giant things and they lumber. There’s no way to
relate them to birds. JULIA CLARKE: Then,
in 1963, John Ostrom discovered a fossil in
the badlands of Montana that challenged that view. JACK HORNER: What John Ostrom
first found was this claw. Obviously, it goes to a foot. It was not a claw
for walking on. This dinosaur actually used
that claw for slashing. JULIA CLARKE: Deinonychus was
small, with a delicate build. It ran upright on two legs. It had a long, stiff
tail for balance. Not all dinosaurs were
big and lumbering. JACK HORNER: Ostrom hypothesized
that the animal would scale its prey and start
using its slashing claw and probably eating the
animal while it was alive. JULIA CLARKE: Ostrom’s
discovery set off a revolution. What if dinosaurs weren’t
slow, but warm-blooded and fast-moving, like birds? When Ostrom Deinonychus
to Archaeopteryx, he saw that they both had
lightly-built, hollow bones. And they shared
even more features, including long arms and
similar hip and shoulder bones. Ostrom concluded that birds
did descend from dinosaurs, as Huxley had argued. Not from lumbering sauropods,
but from another lineage called theropods that
walked on two legs and included T-Rex and agile
predators like Deinonychus. While some scientists did not
accept this idea at first, supporting evidence
continued to accumulate, including the discovery
that theropods had a feature of birds
not previously found– a wish bone. JACK HORNER: People had
sort of looked for them and really didn’t know what
it was going to look like. And then, all of a sudden,
we started finding them. Here is the wishbone
of Tyrannosaurus Rex. JULIA CLARKE: When
scientists analyzed the skeletons of
theropods and birds, they found too many
similarities for any explanation but common ancestry. Jack’s collection at the
Museum of the Rockies offers an opportunity to
compare their features. JACK HORNER: Here’s
an Albertosaur tibia. And as you can see, it’s
hollow, just like a modern bird. JULIA CLARKE: This
is a T-Rex foot. What we see here are three
forward-facing digits that bear the weight of the animal. And in the back, a
much smaller digit. If we take a look at
this chicken foot, we’ll see the same pattern. We’ve got three
forward-facing digits, and on the back, a
much smaller one. All dinosaurs share
an S-shaped neck. You can see it here and in
living birds like this chicken. New kinds of evidence
also emerged. In 1978, Jack made the
surprising discovery of a vast dinosaur
nesting ground. JACK HORNER: We discovered that
dinosaurs nested in colonies and cared for their young,
brought food to their babies. We also had evidence
that they came back, probably over and over
again, for many years to the same site. JULIA CLARKE: In a radical
shift by the 1980s, a consensus was finally
building that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs,
from active predators that walked on two legs. But scientists were about to
discover the most startling evidence of all. In the mid 1990s, farmers
in Northeast China began unearthing dinosaurs
120 million years old. And these fossils preserved
astonishing detail. In 1996, I was a first
year graduate student at my first scientific meeting. They were passing around
pictures of this dinosaur. This chicken-sized theropod,
named Sinosauropteryx, did not have scales. It was covered in some
primitive kind of feather. To see those photos of
a tiny, fuzzy dinosaur– it just blew everybody’s minds. This dinosaur was just the first
of many fuzzy and feathered theropods to be uncovered. Another, called
Caudipteryx, had feathers identical to living birds
on its tail and hands, but lacked wings. With the discovery of these
spectacular feathered finds, there was no longer
any doubt that birds were related to theropods. But while feathered dinosaurs
settled one question, they raised a new one. These animals could not fly. Why were they feathered? It was long assumed that
feathers evolved for flight. But what we found was
that clearly, feathers predate flight and arose
for some other purpose. So why did the first
feathers evolve? That’s hard to tell from
just the fossil evidence. But living birds
may offer answers. Feathers provide insulation. So the first feathers might
have helped keep dinosaurs warm. Birds also use colorful feathers
in communication, in courtship and in territorial displays. Dinosaurs may have used
feathers in the same way. Feathers likely played
different roles at first, and then were
modified for flight. The modification of an existing
structure for a new use is called co-option. It is a common way that new
structures and abilities evolve. Bird wings are modified
forelimbs, once used for grabbing and feeding, just
as the walking limbs of land animals are modified
fins, and a turtle shell is a modified rib cage. So the co-option of
feathers for flight enabled Archaeopteryx and its
relatives to take to the air. And other features also evolved. When we look at evolution
after the origin of flight, we see a lot of characteristics
of living birds gradually accruing. But not in a simple
linear sequence. Like other dinosaurs,
this crow-sized bird had large claws on its hand. But like living birds,
it had a toothless beak and a short, bony tail. While this species had
teeth, its hand bones were partially fused to
form a stronger wing. And this bird had
a large breastbone for well-developed flight
muscles like living birds. But it also had teeth. We don’t find forms
that are somehow lockstep intermediate between
Archaeopteryx and living birds. We find a diversity
of forms, forms we could not have predicted. For tens of millions
of years, an assortment of scaly dinosaurs, feathered
dinosaurs, and many types of birds lived together. Then, 66 million years ago,
almost all of these creatures died out. A six-mile-wide asteroid
slammed into the planet. [EXPLOSION] And triggered a global
mass extinction. Only a small group of
toothless birds survived. And they evolved into the 10,000
species of birds we see today. We once might have said that
the dinosaurs all died out. But now we know
that living birds are a lineage of theropod
dinosaurs in the same way that we are a
lineage of primates. JACK HORNER: Have
dinosaurs gone extinct? Absolutely not. We separate dinosaurs
into two groups now. The non-avian dinosaurs
fortunately have gone extinct. And the avian dinosaurs
are still alive, making it a beautiful world. JULIA CLARKE: Dinosaurs
are still with us. We just call them birds. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Randy Schultz

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100 thoughts on “The Origin of Birds — HHMI BioInteractive Video

  1. Блядь Россия says:

    The best evidence for avian origins comes from sources other than rocks. I’m surprised that HHMI would produce a video that completely ignores molecular biology and other disciplines that aren’t rooted in the 1820’s. Studies in hox genes have shown that morphologically based phylogenies are inherently flawed.

  2. Vladimir Putin says:

    I've never seen so many crazy theories being taught as facts. Your ideas are just that' IDEAS' and you promote this as if it is a definite form of evidence to support what is clearly designed. Stop the world I want to get off, so many fools who can't see beyond the evolution bubble it's almost funny if not so real in their minds.

  3. Real samurais drink strawberry milk says:

    2:23 I wish someone looked at me the way that bird looks at the lady

  4. Unicornia says:


  5. BFDT says:

    You forgot to weave into this the story of the Terror Birds, which filled the niche of tyrannosaurids and other smaller raptor dinosaurs.

  6. Prathap Welikumbura says:

    Beautiful video

  7. stonium says:

    They're really getting their money's worth with that fake Darwin actor.

  8. Jeanette York says:

    Great video….however she uses the word "creature" to describe birds. There are no "creatures". There are fauna….animals who evolved all by themselves… Words matter.

  9. Guy Johnson says:


  10. Nanja van Do says:

    December 2017: Re-examination of the ' Haarlem Archaeopterix' (Teylers Museum, Netherlands) it is now a new species. Ostromia Crassipes.

  11. Randomista says:

    Q U A L I T Y

  12. Claudia S. says:

    Thank you so much for such an amazing video. 😍😍😍 I am also fascinated by nature specially birds and dinosaurs. I live in Alberta, CAN and here there are a few sites and museums about them. The first time I visited an exposition about dinosours I just started to cry, what an incredible detail. I am so thankful to people like you, that dedicate all their life to study and make possible for us, to have a glimpse at this amazing extinct creatures.

  13. Doris Proctor says:

    I did not want this video to end!

  14. BB Singh says:

    It is hard to believe that it is a bird!

  15. SamytheGreek says:

    You mean to tell me that there were NO BIRDS till dinosaurs evolved with feathers, in a lush green earth there were NO BIRDS ? I don't believe it. Maybe you can say that no bird fossils were found along side of dinosaurs because birds don't usually get covered up in mud or volcanic ash which is how you get fossils in the first place. When an animal dies it will decompose or is eaten by other animals, it must be covered  quickly covered in mud to fossilize, maybe birds would simply fly away, but to tell me that there were NO BIRDS before dinosaurs is an insult.

  16. namelessandfaceless says:

    Too funny.  At the end, Jack says, "Fortunately, non-avian dinosaurs are extinct."  Um….no they are not.  We have crocodiles, alligators, komodo dragons, chickens, emu, ostrich…I can go on, but you get the picture.

  17. Carlos Danger says:


  18. dumbcreaknuller says:

    i don't know why they always put the eye of the biped dinosaurs inside the ear, as it look extreamly ugly and unnatural.

  19. andreisabe says:

    Great, just great video!

  20. Irene Teixeira says:

    Awesome video!!! Thank you very much and congratulations on such an incredible work!!

  21. Herdaru Megashop says:

    Kentucky Fried Dinosaur…. yum yum

  22. Jim Reimer says:

    It is time that we give God the Creator the credit for the obvious origin of birds!

  23. iamacow says:

    birds are dinosaurs end of storie

  24. Double Doggo says:

    Watch a vid of a shoebill bird now

  25. WowplayerMe says:

    Feathers evolved because scales were so Triassic. No trendy Theropod wanted to be caught dead with them (and fossilized) in the Jurrasic.

  26. Tony Suffolk says:

    Well made and informative. Thank you.

  27. Ken Keil says:

    Archaeopterix was always a bird. Dino’s never became birds. Natural selection and mutations do not answer the the molecular changes that need to be made.Never has,never will. Natural selection shows diversity in one species only. Mutations are almost always degenerative and detrimental to an organism. Your science is based on assumptions of looking similar, not empirical science or observation. Archaeopterix is was proven to be a bird from the beginning!

  28. Elisa Bell says:

    9:17 Aww, cute doggy is waiting patiently for a bone.

  29. Ryan Disko says:

    So informative! Thank you so much for this. It really is interesting how birds came to be!

  30. Abhay Sharma says:

    kulindadromeres zabaikalicus is a dinosaur try to pronounce it.

  31. Robert Beckler says:

    What are sleestacks then. Birds or lizards.

  32. Birdwatching Azerbaijan says:

    18:18 an unnecessary eagle sound for griffon/bearded vultures' soaring footage.

  33. Hriday Joshi says:

    I want to be a paleontologist when I grow up I am 11 right now I love dinosaurs since I was 4 years old

  34. realme rara says:

    I commend the graphics. It's amazing.

  35. Diamond Reigns says:

    how is it that birds appeared during the late triassic at about the same time therapods appeared? Tracks of birds were found from late Triassic. Bird fossils have been found from late Triassic to early Jurassic. If Birds who have unique skeletal characteristics appeared at same time as therapods who do not share these skeletal characteristics than how could they have evolved from Therapods?

    They would have appeared alongside therapods and not descended directly from them. They may have shared a common ancestor.

    For all we know therapods may have evolved from these early birds. This would follow the pattern of loss of information to adapt. The Therapods lost their wings as they no longer needed them as they got larger. We see a similar example with Ostriches and Moas and terror birds. After the dinosaurs died off species of birds diversified to fill the niche left by the therapods. They became flightless and large. Just like they may have 200,000,000 years ago but with different results.

    It is easier to optimize than to build up and add. The probably that change can take place through optimization is more likely than a build up and addition through change is.

  36. ken kennedy says:

    so if cold blooded dinosaurs became birds will birds evolve into warm blooded dinosaurs?

  37. Arianna Giuliante says:

    What a fantastic video! Really well made!

  38. Shoib Muhammed says:

    The bird is the word

  39. Andysparrow says:

    ok let me get this right we have to DIG 1 mile down for coal thats made from wood from millions of years ago but dinos are inches away to be Discovered stop lying to people

  40. Andre Aguirre says:

    But when did the bird's beak appear??

  41. Tony X-Piano says:

    why are there so many kinds of birds. are they all coming one one origin?

  42. eric debord says:

    if you take a scale a stretch it out,
    it becomes a feather.

  43. Circumflêx ÂÂÂ says:

    Birds replaced pterosaurs like USB kicked hard disks out of market

  44. Phill Leblanc says:

    What about Aussie birds, I heard in recent times there is research on mamy of the worlds birds originally migrated from Oz.

  45. Gajanan Santape says:

    a very informative and amazing video regarding the fossil bird

  46. Evan Roberts says:

    Origin of birds is simple. Julia Clarke and i mated.

  47. Alexandria School of Science says:

    very good quality video

  48. Raed Abdulrahman says:

    I use to hate the hell out of birds (except for hawks,falcons,eagles and owls), but nowadays as i researched, read and observed them, i now love them. All those years before as a kid i wondered about life with dinosaurs, not realizing that Iam actually living with them all this time, birds.

  49. Jim Mauch says:

    Do the genes that create scales in a reptiles have any resemblance to genes that create feathers in birds?

  50. raaspider says:

    well look at that dinosaurs/birds are the most beautiful animals alive today

  51. Jim Reimer says:

    When are we going to get out of the fairy tail mode,and give God the credit for what He has made. Shame on us!!

  52. Warren Fahy says:


  53. Robert Byers says:

    this creationist says its all wrong. instead these fossils show that these dinosaurs were never dinosaurs but just flightless birds. there is no dinosaur/reptile group of creatures. it was a dumb error of those desiring to find evolution in fossils.
    these creatures are birds. birds are not from dinos but are just birds.
    classification is running things too much.

  54. Michael Ferguson says:

    Thank you for this awesome video! I was wondering, how did paleontologists find out that only a small group of toothless birds survived the asteroid?

  55. Noah Culley says:

    this is what I get for watching ark survival evolved videos

  56. ShadeyBladey says:

    When was this documentary made? 1976?


  57. NICOLA B says:

    Brilliantly informative..

  58. Life Matter says:

    Amazing 😉

  59. jonny pepperston says:

    Darwin didn't invent Evolution he invented natural selection and random mutation plus the Archaeopteryx found in the 1800's didn't have a head they didn't find one with a head until like the 1960s I guess I'm just being nitpicky

  60. Dan Helmer says:

    Right on some things wrong on some as well as far as I'm thinking an astroid wiped out dinosaurs ok but we're they actually featherless I'd put money on the raptor and rec having feathers and therefore were birds to begin with but the astroid destroyed them

  61. Sheeza Sania says:


  62. that one bayu says:

    Greatly structured, but dang, it's monotonous. Also, "non-avian fortunately extinct"?

  63. Thumbsdown Bandit says:

    Yeah, but where are the transitional fossils?

  64. rapport building says:

    fast forward

  65. itsasin1969 says:

    A much more awesome story than that book of magic stories from the bronze age.

  66. Madd Dogg says:

    I can see the theropod relationship as a branch, but I don't know that I buy the co-option of feathers for flight. That's a pretty extreme conceptual leap of reasoning. What if birds are a branch evolved from another group of feathered reptilian/theropod water species able to fly short distances. The real issue here is the evolution of flight and it didn't just happen. Swimming to flying is a "huge leap."

  67. Fancy McPants says:

    3:50 oya pooh kenek wage ane

  68. Keeng says:

    That's truly awesome to know, great vid!

  69. jonas jensen says:

    Gods creation is wonderfull

  70. Timothy Y. says:

    If the sauropods survived to reproduce, I wonder what they would look like today.

  71. lucymalak90 Rod says:

    This Is great! I was embarrased cause yesterday I was atacked by a freaking bird, now I can say that a dinosaur wanted to kill me! What an experience! My kids will be proud of me when I tell them how I defeated that nasty therapod!

  72. Douglas Guan says:

    Then we eat dinosaur's eggs everyday.

  73. Nate Hoffman says:

    How about looking at a baby chicken. It's all about warmth.

  74. Gentleman Josh says:

    She's quite pretty but she doesn't just have good looks, she also has an intelligent brain.

  75. Chama Lineros says:

    Explain this you religious fanatics

  76. James Richard Retta says:

    A creature that is a mix of lizard and bird is not a missing link. Besides, links ( + s, plural) would include millions of links of a each species. All missing from the fossil record. Only huge jumps in evolution remain ?

  77. James Richard Retta says:

    A single example of one step in “evolution,” a single link in an extremely long chain is not evolution. There are no other links in the chain??? !!!!

  78. Mahiya Hassen says:

    Thank you for this documentary. ♥♥

  79. Dragonblack WhiteBlue says:

    The Elaenia Albiceps are dinosaurs <3

  80. Lauch 456 says:

    Dinosaurs looked nearlybintire like birds. And Birds have wish bones . Reptiles not. Comicly we also founded wishbones in trex.

  81. Lauch 456 says:

    So yes birds are dinosaurs

  82. der Lean says:

    Birds are reptiles

  83. Tor Hunemark says:

    Come on, we all know they were created by someone created by man.

  84. Tracy Paxton says:

    What kind of bird is that at 17:27?

  85. DAVID FILER says:

    Total False News. It was that great American sweet baby jeebus is wot done it. I lernt in skool. USA rools!!!!!

  86. David Bingley says:

    COCO-NANDY carries an umbrella outside so the birds won't crap on him.

  87. Dipali Malvekar says:

    Very interesting fact .thanks

  88. interpretation 21 says:

    It took millions of years of evolution, through a very rich complex of interacting speciel development, to adduce so much variety….. it would be hard to prove all the interactions between species that adduced each unique specie , BUT an AI program armed with a complex algorithm could show those precise relations …

  89. ELVISFX says:

    I always loved birds since my childhood, but when I discovered that they descends from avian dinosaurs I loved them even more

  90. Christof L says:

    It's amazing people still believe this theory of evolution which is a provable fraud!

  91. Jack Cambest says:

    Science! IT IS AMAZING!

  92. seattwa says:

    "Dinosaurs are still with us." "We call them, birds." The look on that hawks face, WHAT! I'M A DINOSAUR!! WTF!!

  93. Seeker KC says:

    16:29 I initially saw this as a duck as large as a shrimp boat!

  94. Gary Hawkins says:

    Open letter to Charles Darwin. Dear Sir, There is no reason to think evolution has not been directed/steered using genetic engineering by extraterrestrials otherwise known as angels back in the day, except perhaps the relatively small size of our brains hindering the thought from dawning on us. Or pride or both. Sincerely, G.H. ….. PS Appreciate your efforts though, who'da thunk it'd turn into a religion like is has eh, lol.

  95. Lord Freeza says:

    what if the non avien dinosaurs like tyrannosauroidae spinosauroidae allosauroidae sauropods hardrosaurs ceratopcians and ornithopods never went extinct? how would they look like? big weird flightless bird creatures? man its hard to imagine a creature like that

  96. eliman Designs says:

    So why wouldn't any birds evolve teeth? It seems like evolution doesn't do anything different but rather adjusts an existing plan.

  97. Fred Landry says:

    Makes you think the next time you eat fried chicken.

  98. Luke A says:

    Birds ARE therapod dinosaurs

  99. yy958 says:

    9:50 don't try to fool me, we all know that's an old banana

  100. raymond burke says:

    What pure, unadulterated B.S. Things turned out just as Darwin predicted. Wow, what a coincidence! Almost as awesome as Darwin "proving" all of the things he was told by his grand pop who actually was clueless. Pure rubbish.

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