In recent years several specimens of feathers, even partially preserved wings and whole birds, have been recovered from 99 million-year- old amber from Myanmar. The specimen shown here, first revealed in 2017, is an almost complete baby bird.
So far, all the Myanmar amber birds appear to belong to an early group known as the Enantiornithines, which are cousins to all the living birds.
This is an interesting stage in the evolution of birds from their dinosaur ancestors. Enantiornithines had similar flight feathers to modern birds, suggesting they were capable of skilled, powered flight, while still retaining the primitive teeth and wing- claws. Despite being a diverse and vibrant group in the Late Cretaceous period, the enantiornithines went the way of the other dinosaurs at the close of the Mesozoic.
As with other creatures trapped in amber, all that is left is an impression of the surface of the birds, but the detail and clarity are stunning. In this case, we can see each individual scale and claw on the legs, separate feathers, skin, muscles and many other intimate details, including the original colours of the feathers.
Even though this is only a hatchling, barely three and a half centimetres long, the fact that it is covered in well- developed feathers tells us individual enantiornithines developed in a different manner to their living relatives. Enantiornithines appear to have had fully-formed feathers at a very early stage of their development, while their modern counterparts are still only downy- covered chicks – details we would not have known if they had not had the misfortune of being encased in tree sap.
Barely three-and-a-half centimetres long, the preserved details of this Enantiornithes hatchling are extraordinary.