Are Birds Dinosaurs? Looking Into the Dino-Dominated Past

Three toes. Two legs. Little arms. Are dinosaurs birds, or are birds dinosaurs?

Have you ever wanted to see a dinosaur in real life? Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to go somewhere like a Jurassic Zoo or a Cretaceous Park and see a T. rex or Apatosaurus doing its dino thing? Creatures such as sharks and horseshoes crabs have stood the test of time, and their descendants can be observed today. But what about other ancient animals? 

We can learn a great deal by looking at their fossils, but there is something else we can do in our modern era to get a glimpse at what dinosaurs may have been like: go bird watching! That’s right! As strange as it may seem, there is a large body of evidence collected by scientists that suggests that birds are in fact the closest living relatives to dinosaurs! But before you grab your hiking gear and binoculars, here are a few cool facts to help you answer the question, "Are birds dinosaurs?"

A dinosaur named Archaeopteryx may be the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds.

Archaeopteryx was discovered in Germany and was surprisingly well preserved. Paleontologists found one specimen that still had feathers! It was long believed that

Archaeopteryx was the first bird, but upon further study, it was found to be more closely related to the Maniraptoran family of dinosaurs than modern birds. This further cemented its place as a bridge, or transition fossil, between dinosaurs and birds.

Archaeopteryx fossils are birds

Birds are related to theropod dinosaurs — a group that includes the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Theropods were bipedal dinosaurs, meaning they walked on two legs, not four like many other dinosaurs. When we look at the modern-day emu or ostrich, the resemblance to these dinosaurs is striking, especially when examining their bone structure.

However, they are not the only birds with similarities to theropods. Underneath Orlando Science Center’s resident T. rex, Stan, we have a skeleton of a chicken to show their shared ancestry. Comparing the two makes one realize how lucky we are that chickens don’t get as big as the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.

bird and dinosaur skeleton

Birds have scales like many dinosaurs and some dinosaurs may have had feathers.

Scientists have discovered that the tissues used to produce scales in reptiles are similar to those that produce feathers in birds. This suggests that there is a common ancestor between dinosaurs, birds, and reptiles. Furthermore, birds have scales on their feet!

A recently discovered dinosaur in China had preserved skin with what looks like feathers, or what paleontologists refer to as proto-feathers. However, further study is required, and this is a topic of debate among scientists.

bird and dinosaurs has scales

Birds lay eggs similar to dinosaurs and reptiles.

The similarities between bird and reptile eggs are well known, but they also share traits with dinosaur eggs.

Most dinosaur eggs are hard-shelled, just like the eggs of our modern-day feathered friends. They are also both made up of the same basic elements, calcium, and carbon, which form crystal structures that make the eggshell more difficult to crack.

dinosaurs and birds lay similar eggs

Some modern birds still have claws similar to Maniraptoran dinosaurs.

There is a reason modern birds of prey are often referred to as raptors. Their talons have a similar curvature to those found in dinosaurs like the velociraptor. In the case of the bald eagle, these talons are used to tightly grip their prey.

Other birds have different uses for their talons. The cassowary, native to Australia, is a large flightless bird that can grow as tall as 5.6 feet. With a large crest on their head and blue skin, they look like they walked right out of a time machine! Their claws are mainly used in self-defense. When threatened, these modern-day dinos will rear up and attempt to jab at their attacker with frightening precision.

raptor dinosaur and birds

Expand on the lesson!

So, are birds dinosaurs? Now that we've explored this question, and have learned about how birds are related to dinosaurs, you can go out bird watching and make your own scientific observations! Here in Florida, you don’t have to travel far to spot dinosaur descendants. Birds like the sandhill crane, red-shouldered hawk, and bald eagle can be found in your own backyard or on a short hike!  Create and chart your observations with this DIY animal chart activity!

Make sure to stay safe and take precautions while looking for dino descendants! If you want to learn more about living animals or dinosaurs, be sure to stop by Natureworks or DinoDigs at the Orlando Science Center. We look forward to seeing you!

are sand crane birds dinosaurs

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Zoo Awareness Month: How Modern Zoos Contribute to Conservation and Research

Bringing Zoo Awareness from the Past to the Present

June is Zoo and Aquariums Awareness month! Let’s take a look at the history of the first animal collections, where the modern zoo or aquarium is today, and why animals are kept in human care.

The earliest record of an animal collection was Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s collection in Egypt. It was common in ancient times for rulers across the world to give exotic animals, as gifts. For the most part, little effort went into the well-being of the animals. Slowly, information about how to care for these animals spread, and eventually exotic animal trainers and the first zookeepers began to emerge.

In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, zoological gardens became more and more popular. Zoological gardens are any collection of animals that are kept for public viewing. Zoology developed into a field of science, and private collections slowly began to fade from popularity. The donations and ticket sales at zoological gardens partially funded the scientific research on the animal’s behavior, anatomy, breeding, and nutrition. In the United States, national parks were formed and laws were passed to preserve these natural areas.

A Look into the Modern Zoo

Not all Zoos and Aquariums are equal. Even though many scientific and technological advancements have helped the zoology field grow as a whole. There are millions of zoos worldwide, but there are many differences between them.

In fact, not even all animal collections are the same. Let’s look at some of the most common kinds of animal collections and zoological gardens there are.

  • Private Zoo – owned by an individual or organization, is open to the public usually by reservation only
  • Private Zoo (breeding facility) – owned by an organization or individual, the animals in this collection are bred for Species Survival Plans or for animals to go to other zoological facilities. May or may not be open to the public
  • For-profit Zoo – large or small, a zoo that is open to the public and profit comes from tickets sales, events, or outreach programs
  • Non-for-profit Zoo – has programs in place to benefit the animals, the community, and education, does not earn profit from ticket sales or outreach programs, receives local and federal funding
  • Exotic Animal Sanctuary – owned by an individual or organization, does not buy or breed animals, only receives animals that cannot go to zoos or be released out in nature for medical or behavioral reasons
  • Private animal collection – an animal collection that is not open to the public, is up to the individual whether animals breed or what animals are bought, is for personal fulfillment not educating the public or contributing to conservation efforts

There are many advisory boards and accreditation associations in the United States, and globally that oversee how zoos and aquariums are maintained, and help ensure that animals in these facilities are treated humanely. 

OSC is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to science learning for life, and we’re lucky to be a science learning center with live animals. Our animal ambassadors help people learn about nature and wildlife and hopefully inspire people to make small changes in their life that will have huge positive impacts on natural habitats. The variety of animals at the science center helps people see the issues some animals encounter in the wild like deforestation, poaching, and pollution.

 

The next time you visit the Orlando Science Center, or any animal facility, ask the staff members and volunteers questions. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • How is the animal exhibit similar to the natural habitat of this species?
  • Does this animal have a favorite food?
  • What conservation efforts is the zoo involved in?
  • What is animal enrichment?
  • What are some threats facing this animal in the wild?
Zoo Awareness- an old zoo

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Science Facts About Dogs: Unleash Fun Facts About Your Furry Friends!

How much do you know about our canine companions? Test your knowledge with these fun science facts about dogs!

How much do you know about your pet? Are their behaviors a mystery to you? Let’s unleash some fun science facts about dogs!

Dogs see color the same way that a red-green colorblind person would.

Dogs can only distinguish a few hues, mostly blues and yellows. This is why some dogs have trouble finding red toys on green grass. They can’t see them!

Graphic depicting how dogs see color differently

A dog’s mouth isn’t actually cleaner than a human’s.

Dogs have about the same number of germs in their mouth as we do. Keep in mind that dogs use their mouths like we use our hands, so wash up after playing a slobbery game of tug o’ war!

Dog with its tongue out

Dogs can sweat!

Dogs can sweat through their paw pads. They do this in addition to regulating their temperature by panting. Some dog owners say that their dog’s paws smell like stale corn chips. Eww!

close-up of dog paw

Dogs are omnivores.

Over years of selective breeding, humans were actually able to change the diet of dogs! Domestic dogs are able to eat meat and plants. Most wild dog species are carnivores.

puppies eating

Dogs have about 300 million olfactory receptors.

Humans only have about 6 million! Dogs are known for their keen sense of smell – that's why they’re used for search and rescue and sniffing out crime.

close up of a dog nose

Expand on the Activity:

  •  Learn how our animal handlers in NatureWorks teach our animal ambassadors positive reinforcement.
  • Put your Animal Kingdom knowledge to the test with a Bee identification game To Bee or Not to Bee.

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