Peacocks are known for their beautiful feathers. The pheasants proudly opens its plumage like a fan in order to attract and court a mate. In fact, the peafowl will inspect the males’ feathers before it makes its decision to go forward to copulate together. Parrots, California quail, and the red-legged partridge are also birds who rely on the colour of their plumage to score points with the females. These birds may have inherited this behaviour from an ancestor millions of years ago. A prehistoric bird that lived about 120 million years ago was found in Liaoning, China. It lived during the Age of the Dinosaurs which is the Mesozoic Era. This is broken up in to three periods; Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. What is spectacular about this finding is the prehistoric bird’s iridescent feathers.The more colourful and sparkling the feather, the more the bird is seen as a strong specimen to mate with.
Lead researcher from the Department of Biology and Integrated Bioscience Program at the University of Akron, Jennifer Peteya, says the bird belongs to the enantiornithes group.
“This new specimen shows that some enantiornithines also had iridescent feathers and unlike most modern birds, these flashy ornaments developed before the animal was fully grown,” explains Peteya.
The bird found was only eight centimetres in length.
The dinosaur’s feathers were long and spread out from the back and tail. This led researchers to believe it displayed its wings the same way peacocks do today.
Nonetheless, from the outside they resembled modern day birds.
Birds use their feathers for flight, mating, balance, and regulating their body temperature.
Researchers used high-power X-rays to determine the presence of colour.
“This kind of extravagant feather array, like the tail feathers of peacocks, is usually used for mate attraction,” explains Walsh. “It seems this bird was an adolescent out on its first attempt to ‘pull’, so to speak.”
Being able to study the pigment from the enantiornithine’s feathers will allow them to know the exact colour of other prehistoric birds as well as large dinosaurs.
“The avian descendants of dinosaurs have kept the chemical key to unlocking colour precisely in their feather chemistry,” says Manning.