Researchers in China have recovered a new genus and species (gen. et sp. nov.) of fossil bird beautifully perserved in fine lake sediments that show the outlines of its feathers. There’s a picture and a general-interest article at National Geographic. The main link (below) is to the article on the Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences Web site, “Discovery of an ornithurine bird and its implication for Early Cretaceous avian radiation,” by Zhonghe Zhou and Fucheng Zhang. From the abstract:
Hongshanornis longicresta… had completely reduced teeth and possessed a beak in both the upper and lower jaws, representing the earliest known beaked ornithurine. The preservation of a predentary bone confirms that this structure is not unique to ornithischian dinosaurs but was common in early ornithurine birds…. It was probably a wader, feeding in shallow water or marshes.
The next link shows the phylogenetic relationship of Hongshanornis:
The strict consensus phylogenetic tree shows that Hongshanornis longicresta is the most basal ornithurine bird. The result was derived from a PAUP… analysis with 202 morphological characters… of 23 avian taxa and Dromeosauridae. Seven new avian taxa were added to the data matrix of Clarke and Norell, including Yanornis chaoyangensis, Yixianornis grabaui, Hongshanornis longicresta, Liaoningornis longidigitus, Confuciusornis sanctus, Sapeornis chaoyangensis, and Jeholornis prima. [The elisions show where I’ve removed details of the techniques.]
See the cladistic diagram of Hongshanornis.