30 million-year-old hummingbird fossil rediscovered in France

This video shows a ruby-throated hummingbird.

From British daily The Independent:

Found in France, a 30 million-year-old hummingbird fossil

By Emily Murphy in Paris

Published: 19 December 2007

The “rediscovery” of a stunningly-preserved 30 million-year-old hummingbird fossil in southern France has deepened the mystery of why these fragile creatures disappeared from Europe and now exist only on the American continent.

The fossil was originally found by an amateur palaeontologist at the end of the 1980s in the Lubéron national park in Provence. It then lay in his private collection for a number of years, unknown to the wider world and as good as undiscovered. …

M. Louchart, the principal author of a study of the fossil recently published online in the German journal Naturwissenschaften and who has worked on excavations all over Europe and in Africa, spotted the fossil in his colleague’s collection. He recognised it as one of only two 30 million-year-old hummingbird fossils ever to be found – and by far the most complete.

The fossil is extraordinary in several ways: it has been exceptionally well preserved; its tiny vertebrae, delicate feet, the bones of its wings, its skull and beak are all intact. Even its feathers have left a fine layer of black powder around it. Also astonishing is that apart from a few very small differences, this ancient hummingbird is very similar to its modern relatives. …

In 2004 another hummingbird fossil was excavated in Germany and seemed to pre-date anything ever found in the Americas. However, this discovery was surrounded by scepticism as only the back part of it had been preserved – and in a very poor condition – and therefore made identification difficult. At the time, experts doubted that the oldest fossil hummingbird ever discovered would have been found in Europe given they now only live across the Atlantic. The French fossil has allayed these doubts.

But the oldest specimen found in the Americas is a mere 1.8 million years old. This has left a baffling 20-million-year gap in the fossil record, re-igniting the question of when and why these birds abandoned Europe for the New World.

“The palaeontological gap in America is for the moment inexplicable,” said M. Louchart. “One idea which has been suggested is that there are not the right geological conditions in America for preservation, especially given the smallness and delicacy of hummingbirds.”

In the Lubéron national park in France, which 30 million years ago was an immense tropical lagoon, experts and amateurs are continuing to excavate, but according to M. Louchart the birds are “very, very rare: sometimes you might find a feather”. The small number of other bird fossils which have been discovered there, all in an equally remarkable condition as the hummingbird, include a cormorant, an ibis, a crane, and a cuckoo.

The fossil hummingbird is described as belonging to the genus Eurotrochilus; also found in Germany.

Dino-Era Feathers Found Encased in Amber: here.

Colours of fossil birds and dinosaurs: here. And here.

7 thoughts on “30 million-year-old hummingbird fossil rediscovered in France

  1. Marvellous interpretation centre – Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) with support from the American Bird Conservancy, BirdLife and the British Birdwatching Fair have opened the Marvellous Spatuletail Interpretation Centre in Pomacochas, Peru. This is an important step in promoting environmental education in this area and helping to safeguard one of the most spectacular species of hummingbirds. Marvellous Spatuletail Loddigesia mirabilis is classified as Endangered and only occurs at a small number of sites in northern Peru. Adult males (which are greatly outnumbered by females and immature males) gather at leks where they display to attract females. To see the courtship display click here



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