Birds are still evolving

Darren Irwin, Professor of Zoology at UBC, studies birds where Richard and Lisa found the dinosaur footprints. What similarities does he point out between birds and dinosaurs?

A fossil replica of a bird-like creature. Its feathered wings are outstretched and its neck is bent back into an awkward position.

Darren: So Archaeopteryx was clearly recognized as a bird when it was discovered, mainly because of the clear wings with flight feathers, asymmetric feathers, on it. 

Close up of the wings. They are outlined with a white overlay.

Darren: And so this was clearly a flying reptile and provided the link between reptiles and birds. So modern birds and theropod dinosaurs share a lot of features. 

Birds fly together in a large group.

Darren: And it’s increasingly recognized that dinosaurs, rather than being these cold-blooded, slow-moving animals that we used to think of them as, were really probably endothermic, meaning warm-blooded, they have good parental care, they had a lot of colourful feathers on them. And they had a lot of displays. They probably made calls in a lot of mating displays and so forth. All those traits are very similar to modern birds. 

A grey-haired man in a green jacket looks at the camera.

Darren: My name is Darren Irwin. I’m a professor here at the UBC Biodiversity Research Centre. And I study bird speciation, so how one species gradually becomes two over time.