Dinosaurs are so popular that we often neglect their flying relatives that are still among us. Birds, the true "living dinosaurs," deserve considerable respect as successful vertebrates that have evolved, adapted, and survived over a period of 225 million years. The Rise of Birds is the first detailed, illustrated, and comprehensive review of the fossil record of birds in a modern phylogenetic context. Distinguished paleontologist Sankar Chatterjee provides a clear and exciting chronology documenting the long odyssey of birds since Protoavis -- which may have taken to the air some 75 million years before the widely known "first bird," Archaeopterix. The remains of Protoavis are preserved in a still controversial fossil found by Chatterjee and hist students in Texas in 1983.
Throughout The Rise of Birds, Chatterjee offers a wealth of fascinating details from the colorful history of birds past and present. Among them:
- Some intelligent theropods such as dromaeosaurs were arboreal and could climb trees with their swivel wrist joint and stiff tail. They were capable of parachuting and gliding from tree to ground.
- The discovery of downy theropod dinosaurs from China indicates that upper jaw mobility, not feathers, is the most distinctive characteristic of birds.
- Most birds were wiped out 65 million years ago, along with the dinosaurs, by large meteoritic impacts. However, few lineages of birds rebounded from this catastrophe and underwent an explosive evolution.
The Rise of Birds discusses the significance of all the many recently discovered bird and possible bird fossils, from Europe to China to Latin America. Chatterjee outlines the varying theories of how animal flight developed, and he explains, in terms of comparative anatomy, what makes a bird a bird. The book covers some of the greatest events in avian development: their emergence in the Triassic pangean world, their flight refinement and global diversification during the continental breakup of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, their sudden decline at the end-Cretaceous extinction, their rebound and explosive radiation dur-ing the Cenozoic era, and finally their destiny with us.
Beautifully illustrated by Michael W. Nickell, this book will be of interest to a broad range of readers, including vertebrate paleontologists, ornithologists, and amateur naturalists, including birders.