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A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China


The lacustrine deposits of the Yixian and Jiufotang Formations in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Group in the western Liaoning area of northeast China are well known for preserving feathered dinosaurs, primitive birds and mammals1,2,3. Here we report a large basal bird, Jeholornis prima gen. et sp. nov., from the Jiufotang Formation. This bird is distinctively different from other known birds of the Early Cretaceous period in retaining a long skeletal tail with unexpected elongated prezygopophyses and chevrons, resembling that of dromaeosaurids4,5,6, providing a further link between birds and non-avian theropods7,8. Despite its basal position in early avian evolution, the advanced features of the pectoral girdle and the carpal trochlea of the carpometacarpus of Jeholornis indicate the capability of powerful flight. The dozens of beautifully preserved ovules of unknown plant taxa in the stomach represents direct evidence for seed-eating adaptation in birds of the Mesozoic era.

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Figure 1: Complete holotype of Jeholornis prima gen. et sp. nov. (IVPP V13274).
Figure 2: Holotype of Jeholornis prima gen. et sp. nov. (IVPP V13274).
Figure 3: Pelvic girdle and tibia, calcaneum and astragalus of Jeholornis prima gen. et sp. nov. (IVPP V13274).
Figure 4: Cladogram showing phylogenetic relationships between Jeholornis prima and other major groups of birds.

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We thank X. Xu and X. Wang for discussions and help in the field, and L. Witmer for review. J. Hilton and Q. Leng helped with the analysis of the ovules, and Y. Li prepared the specimens. This work was supported by the Special Funds for Major State Basic Research Projects of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Hundred Talents Project of CAS, and the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars of China to Z.Z.

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Correspondence to Zhonghe Zhou.

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Zhou, Z., Zhang, F. A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature 418, 405–409 (2002).

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