A prehistoric bird that lived during the same time as the dinosaurs had a head similar to a Velociraptor and a toucan-like beak. The small, crow-sized bird that lived around 68 million years ago has been named Falcatakely forsterae.
Scientists discovered the “exquisitely preserved” fossilized skull back in 2010 in muddy sandstone in the northwestern part of Madagascar. And its beak was certainly unique as it was long and curved. In an email to Live Science, Patrick O'Connor, who is a professor of anatomy at Ohio University and a co-researcher of the study, noted this unique beak by stating “Birds from the Mesozoic [the dinosaur era], or any time for that matter, do not have faces built like this,” adding, “Mesozoic birds with such high, long faces are completely unknown. Falcatakely provides a great opportunity to reconsider ideas around head and beak evolution in the lineage leading to modern birds.”
Researchers only truly identified the bird’s unique beak when they finally analyzed it seven years after it was discovered. The very small 3-inch-long skull had “a beak never before seen in the Mesozoic,” as described by Alan Turner, who is an associate professor of anatomy at Stony Brook University in New York and another co-researcher of the study.
Turner went on to explain that today’s birds have a single bone underneath their beak, but the Falcatakely forsterae had a bone under its beak as well as a big upper jawbone. “Falcatakely made up its face with the same bones and in a similar way as an animal like Velociraptor did,” he noted, adding, “What is remarkable is that with this ancestral arrangement of bones, Falcatakely evolved a beak shape strongly reminiscent of modern birds with high, long upper bills.”
The beak is a great example of convergent evolution which is a process where different groups independently evolve similar features. The long upper bill of the Falcatakely forsterae evolved tens of millions of years prior to more modern birds like hornbills and toucans, “So it is actually the toucans and the hornbills that have the convergent morphology. Falcatakely beat them to it," Turner said.
Dr. Ryan Felice, who is an expert on bird, dinosaur and human anatomy as well as another co-author of the study, weighed in by stating, “What is so amazing is these lineages converged on this same basic anatomy despite being very distantly related.” Their research was published in the journal Nature where it can be read in full.
Pictures of what the Falcatakely forsterae would have looked like 68 million years ago can be seen here.