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General Fossil Information
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There are various genera of birds found in the Cretaceous deposits around Morden including Baptornis, Ichthyornis, Hesperornis, and Parahesperornis. All of these birds possessed basal avian characteristics, including teeth.
The most common bird family represented by fossils locally is the Hesperornithidae (including the genera Baptornis, Hesperornis, and Parahesperornis). These birds were an average 1.5 m (4-5 ft) tall.
These flightless birds did not run on land like most of today’s flightless birds. They were primarily aquatic swimmers in the Western Interior Seaway. Their legs were strong and large, and were well adapted, built for swimming and maneuvering in the water.
Much like an Ostrich, the Hesperornithidae did not possess functional wings. The humerus was drastically reduced to only a sliver of bone. In addition, the absence of a keel on the sternum for the attachment of large pectoralis muscles also indicates that the Hesperornithidae could not fly.
Ichthyornis is the other bird found in this locality and was a bit smaller than today’s modern seagull, although probably very similar in its habits. Ichthyornis has pneumatic bones and most likely had the ability to sustain long periods of flight. The nearest known shoreline was some distance away from where we find these specimens. The fossils of Ichthyornis are very delicate and fragile and are rarely preserved due to their small size.
Both the Ichthyornithidae and the Hesperornithidae were transitional forms possessing basal characteristics that are lacking in modern birds. One example is that while both the Ichthyornithidae and the Hesperornithidae possess teeth, both groups were also beginning to show signs of reduction in the number of teeth when compared to their dinosaurian ancestors.
Baptornis, Ichthyornis, Hesperornis, and Parahesperornis are all evolutionary dead-ends; they have no modern relatives.