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Digging up the super great-granddaddy of ducks

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There were lots of dinosaurs in China 110 million years ago, but did you know that there were also lots of birds? Some of these birds looked like feathered dinosaurs, but some of them looked a lot like birds we see flying around today.

This week, scientists from China and the United States will show the world some very old fossils of a bird called Gansus that might have been the super-great-granddaddy of ducks.

Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Dr. Hai-lu You of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and his fellow scientists found the Gansus fossils in rocks that used be the muddy bottom of an old lake. Fossils are the leftover bits of animals that lived millions of years ago. Dr. You and the other scientists found almost all of Gansus' skeleton except its head and part of its neck.

The bones aren't smashed up like most fossils. You can even see pieces of feather and the webbing in between the birds' toes.

The scientists are really excited about how nice the fossils look, because good skeletons can tell a lot about a bird. Little clues in Gansus' skeleton make the scientists think that Gansus might have been a very close cousin of birds that live on Earth today.

Click here for a high resolution photograph.

And Gansus' webby toes might mean that the super-great grandparents of today's birds were splashing around and maybe munching fish in the water.

Think you might want to be a fossil bird hunter? The scientists say it's hard work. To find Gansus, the scientists spent hours splitting open pieces of lake rock to see if there were any fossils inside. Dr. Matt Lamanna, one of the scientists who found Gansus, says it's like cracking open a book and looking for stuff in between the pages.


The Gansus study appears in the 16 June issue of the journal Science.