Dinosaurs in Your Backyard

by Annie Harmon
Education Intern

Have you heard the news? 

Birds aren’t just birds anymore—they’re also dinosaurs!

I’m not just saying this because I’m excited to see Jurassic World. This summer at the VINS Nature Center, we’re tracing the family tree of birds all the way back to prehistoric times. We’re gaining a deeper appreciation for the birds we love and discovering that, in fact, “Birds Are Dinosaurs!” If this sounds strange to you, fear not: the evidence is clear, if you know where to look.

Let’s take a virtual tour through our new exhibit and discover the ancient past of chickens and chickadees!

As we enter the exhibit, we are transported back in time to the dawn of dinosaurs 252 million years ago. The air is full of snufflings, grunts, and roars that could only belong to dinosaurs. But the brightly-colored, feathered creatures around me look nothing like the scaly, smooth, dull-looking dinos I remember from elementary school science classes. Our understanding of dinosaurs has advanced dramatically in the last several years!

To get acquainted with these unfamiliar dinosaurs, we’ll stop by our interactive magnet board. Recreate real dinosaurs, or use the feet, heads, bodies, tails, and wings to “evolve” a new creature!

As we walk through the exhibit, we move forward in time and meet different members of the dinosaur/bird family tree. Each species has characteristics in common with modern birds.

Some dinosaurs had sharp, curved claws,
 like modern birds of prey.

Other dinosaurs had toothed “beaks” and birdlike eyes.

Many dinosaurs even had feathers, which are clearly visible in their fossils.

These fossils provided some of the best evidence for the theory of evolution, and they changed the ways in which we think about dinosaurs, birds, and all of the evolutionary history of this planet. Small, gradual changes over time allowed big, carnivorous, terrestrial dinosaurs to evolve into the enormous diversity of birds we see today.

Bird-like characteristics allowed dinosaurs to hunt powerfully, move efficiently, and reproduce successfully. Paleontologists can determine an incredible amount about prehistoric life using fossils: bodies, footprints, and eggs preserved in rock. Some of these creatures have tongue-twisting names, but you’ll also see familiar faces. Even the famous Velociraptor belongs on the bird family tree. In fact, Velociraptor had feathers (despite what you’ll see in Jurassic World!).

Excavate a fossil in our Dino Dig
and be a paleontologist for a day!
Does Velociraptor deserve its reputation as a cunning, fierce hunter? To find out, you’ll have to visit!

At the end of the exhibit, chirps and whistles fill the air. A bright cloud of birds escorts us back to the present.  Of course, Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx cannot follow us into the modern era, but their descendants surround us. So the next time you see a raptor program at VINS, or hear a cardinal singing in your backyard, remember that you are in the presence of dinosaurs that never went extinct.

What a handsome dinosaur.

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