When I saw an x-ray of the Pileated Woodpecker several weeks ago at the Wildlife Rehab Center in Roseville my immediate thought was — that looks pre-historic.
You probably would get a similar idea with an image of any bird spread-eagled on an x-ray machine. The pose of the woodpecker, though, closely resembles the pose of the fossil specimen of a very-distant bird relative. I discovered this with some Internet work.
The ancient bird, Confusiusornis sanctus, was a crow-sized bird that lived in China about 120 million years ago. It is one of many evolutionary links between birds and dinosaurs. (Its name means sacred bird of Confucius.)
Confusiusornis is the first of these dinosaur links to have a bird-like beak. It had feathers on its wings and elongated tail feathers. It had highly curved claws on its toes.
It could climb tree trunks. It had limited flight capabilities, a better glider than flyer.
Well, that’s more or less a Pileated Woodpecker, except our woodpecker is a better flyer. You’d except some improvements in 120 million years.
Photoi of the fossil Confusiusornis is used by courtesy of Theo Henskens Fossils, The Netherlands (www.henskensfossils.nl)