Wonderchicken! No, it’s not a character from a cartoon, and it’s not an easy-to-prepare dinner for your kids. Wonderchicken is a fossil. It’s an ancient chicken-like bird that scientists recently discovered in Belgium. Specifically, it’s a tiny skull that is estimated to be between 66.7 and 66.8 million years old.
Scientists are officially calling the fossil Asteriornis maastrichtensis, but they’ve given it the nickname Wonderchicken.
When researchers found Wonderchicken, it was in a block of rocks that had some broken leg bones protruding from it. They did a CT scan [computed tomography scan] and lo and behold – there was a well-preserved skull right there in the rock. “[It was] staring out of the computer screen right at us,” researcher Daniel Field of Cambridge University said.
Field said Wonderchicken was probably the size of a small duck, it had long skinny legs, and it was most likely a shorebird that could fly.
Here’s the crazy thing. Wonderchicken apparently lived through the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs. Field says the prehistoric bird had characteristics that would have given it an advantage during that cataclysmic time. For one thing, Wonderchicken’s legs suggest that it didn’t live in trees, which is a pretty big deal when you consider that trees around the world were being torched by wildfires.
Also, scientists say Wonderchicken’s beak has given no indication that it had a specialized diet. “It probably paid not to be picky about what [it was] eating,” Field said.
Julia Clarke, a fossil-bird expert at the University of Texas, told the Associated Press that Wonderchicken will fill in a lot of the blanks when it comes to the ancestry of modern-day birds. Referring to fossils as snapshots, Clarke said, “right now our photo album has almost nothing in it” from this particular era. “Any new picture is of key importance.”