The Earliest Bird to Sip a Flower

Mayr et al., Biology Letters (2014)

The Earliest Bird to Sip a Flower

Sid is a freelance science journalist.

Researchers have unearthed the earliest evidence of a bird sipping nectar from a flower. The stomach contents of the 47-million-year-old fossil flyer—a long-extinct species of perching bird—include hundreds of grains of pollen (ovals in picture above). The animal, from the genus Pumiliornis, would have been about 8 centimeters long and weighed between 5 and 10 grams, the researchers estimate. That’s about the same size as modern-day hummingbirds and sunbirds, but the ancient bird isn’t related to them or to any of today’s hundreds of species of birds that get their nutrition from flowers. The ancient pollen grains are large and apparently clumped together readily, a clue that the plant that bore the flowers was pollinated by creatures and not by the wind, the researchers report online today in Biology Letters. The fossil bird’s stomach contents also contained a few bits of small insects. As of now, it’s not clear if those insects, probably beetles, were consumed intentionally for their protein or accidentally slurped in during flower-sipping.

Posted in Biology, Paleontology, Plants & Animals