STL Science Center

STL Science Center

08 June 2012

Western Birds

We now travel forward in time to the Late Cretaceous in the Campanian age and we also travel much to the west of China. Specifically, our travels take us to Kansas and Canada where limestone and shale, respectively, yield a wonderful waterfowl designed to dive. Atop the genus of nine recognized species, eight from North America and one from Russia, sits the Regal Western Bird as type fossil, Hesperornis regalis. Built like a cross between a penguin and a duck, Hesperornis was a foot propelled diving bird; this is important so please retain that information. If one must have a modern equivalent then we should look to the Grebe, a family of diving birds in which two species are flightless and the other 20, a few of which are extinct, are very reluctant to fly. The reason for picking out the Grebe as the modern equivalent over other foot propelled birds, such as loons and cormorants, is that the legs, as we shall see, are quite similarly built in Hesperornis and in Grebes. Hesperornis as a genus of birds has very little wing space, almost to the point that they are nonexistent, teeth and a beak, and has been found to reach a maximum length of about 5 feet. I have not yet found out if we are talking tail to teeth or extended feet to teeth, but either way a bird that can dive that is about the size of me is scary enough thank you; I'm teeny. Tomorrow, more pictures than just this one here!
©Dan Varner


  1. Hesperornis in this video clip from National Geographic "Sea Monsters"

    1. Awesome, thanks for sharing. Check out the clip I put up a few days later for Hesperornis: