An ornithurine bird coracoid from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada

Publication: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences
25 June 2020


The Cretaceous birds of Alberta are poorly known, as skeletal elements are rare and typically consist of fragmentary postcranial remains. A partial avian coracoid from the upper Campanian Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Canada, can be referred to the Ornithurae, and is referred to here as Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx). Its structure is similar to previously described ornithurine coracoids from Alberta and other localities in North America, particularly those belonging to the genus Cimolopteryx. A comparison of these elements indicates that the new coracoid is distinct; however, its preservation prevents complete diagnosis. As other Cimolopteryx are Maastrichtian in age, Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx) also represents the earliest occurrence of a Cimolopteryx-like anatomy. A pneumatized coracoid is a diagnostic trait of Neornithes, identified by the presence of a pneumatic foramen. Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx) does not preserve this feature. CT and micro-CT scans of both pneumatic and apneumatic coracoids of modern birds show similar internal structures to Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx), indicating that pneumaticity of the coracoid cannot be determined in the absence of an external pneumatic foramen. A comparison between members of Cimolopterygidae, including Cimolopteryx and Lamarqueavis, raises questions about the assignment of Lamarqueavis to the Cimolopterygidae, and the validity of this family as a whole.


Les oiseaux du Crétacé de l’Alberta demeurent méconnus, leurs éléments squelettiques étant rares et consistant typiquement en des restes postcrâniens fragmentaires. Un coracoïde aviaire partiel de la Formation campanienne de Dinosaur Park en Alberta (Canada) peut être affecté aux ornithurés et est affecté dans le présent article à Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx). Sa structure est semblable à celles de coracoïdes d’ornithurinés décrits antérieurement de l’Alberta et d’autres localités en Amérique du Nord, particulièrement ceux du genre Cimolopteryx. Une comparaison de ces éléments indique que le nouveau coracoïde est différent, bien qu’un diagnostic complet ne puisse être établi en raison de son état de préservation. Comme les autres Cimolopteryx sont d’âge maastrichtien, Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx) représente également l’existence recensée la plus ancienne d’une anatomie de type Cimolopteryx. Un coracoïde pneumatisé constitue un caractère diagnostique des Néornithes, identifié par la présence d’un foramen pneumatique. Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx) ne préserve pas cet élément. Des tomodensitogrammes et de microtommodensitogrammes de coracoïdes pneumatiques et apneumatiques d’oiseaux modernes montrent des structures internes semblables à celles d’Ornithurine G (cf. Cimolopteryx), ce qui indique que la pneumaticité du coracoïde ne peut être déterminée en l’absence d’un foramen pneumatique externe. Une comparaison de membres des cimoloptérygidés, incluant Cimolopteryx et Lamarqueavis, soulève des questions sur l’affectation de Lamarqueavis aux cimoloptérygidés et sur la validité de cette famille dans son ensemble. [Traduit par la Rédaction]

Get full access to this article

View all available purchase options and get full access to this article.


Agnolin F.L. 2010. An avian coracoid from the Upper Cretaceous of Patagonia, Argentina. Studia Geologica Salmanticensia, 46: 99–119.
Aotsuka K. and Sato T. 2016. Hesperornithiformes (Aves: Ornithurae) from the Upper Cretaceous Pierre Shale, Southern Manitoba, Canada. Cretaceous Research, 63: 154–169.
Baumel, J.J., and Witmer. L.M. 1993. Osteologia. In Handbook of avian anatomy: nomina anatomica avium. Edited by J.J. Baumel, A.S. King, J.E. Breazile, H.E. Evans, and J.C. Vanden Berge. 2nd ed. Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club 23, pp. 45–132.
Bell A. and Everhart M.J. 2011. Remains of small ornithurine birds from a Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian) microsite in Russell County, north-central Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, 114(2): 115–123.
Bono R.K., Clarke J., Tarduno J.A., and Brinkman D. 2016. A large Ornithurine bird (Tingmiatornis arctica) from the Turonian High Arctic: Climatic and evolutionary implications. Scientific Reports, 6: 38876.
Brodkorb, P. 1963. Birds from the Upper Cretaceous of Wyoming. In Proceedings of the XIII International Ornithological Congress, Ithaca, 17–24 June 1962, pp. 55–70.
Chiappe, L.M. 2002. Basal bird phylogeny: problems and solutions. In Mesozoic birds above the heads of dinosaurs. Edited by L.M. Chiappe and L.M. Witmer. University of California Press, Ltd., pp. 448–472.
Clarke J.A. 2004. Morphology, phylogenetic taxonomy, and systematics of Ichthyornis and Apatornis (Avialae: Ornithurae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 286: 1–179.
Clarke J.A., Tambussi C.P., Noriega J.I., Erickson G.M., and Ketcham R.A. 2005. Definitive fossil evidence for the extant avian radiation in the Cretaceous. Nature, 433: 305–308.
Currie, P.J. 2005. Theropods, including birds. In Dinosaur Provincial Park: a spectacular ancient ecosystem revealed. Edited by P.J. Currie and E.B. Koppelhus. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, pp. 367–397.
Dyke G., Wang X., and Kaiser G. 2011. Large fossil birds from a Late Cretaceous marine turbidite sequence on Hornby Island (British Columbia). Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 48(11): 1489–1496.
Eberth D.A. 1990. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of vertebrate microfossil sites in the uppermost Judith River Formation (Campanian), Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. Palaeogeography, Paleoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 78(1–2): 1–36.
Eberth D.A. 1996. Origin and significance of mud-filled incised valleys (Upper Cretaceous) in southern Alberta, Canada. Sedimentologists, 43(3): 459–477.
Field D.J., Lynner C., Brown C., and Darroch S.A.F. 2013. Skeletal Correlates for Body Mass Estimation in Modern and Fossil Flying Birds. PLoS ONE, 8(11): e82000.
Fowler D.W. 2017. Revised geochronology, correlation, and dinosaur stratigraphic ranges of the Santonian-Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) formations of the Western Interior of North America. PLoS ONE, 12(11): e0188426.
Fox R.C. 1974. A Middle Campanian, nonmarine occurrence of the Cretaceous toothed bird Hesperornis Marsh. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 11(9): 1335–1338.
Fox R.C. 1984. Ichthyornis (Aves) from the early Turonian (Late Cretaceous) of Alberta. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 21(2): 258–260.
Gauthier, J., and de Queiroz, K. 2001. Feathered dinosaurs, flying dinosaurs, crown dinosaurs, and the name ‘Aves’. In New Perspective on the Origin and Evolution of Birds: Proceedings of the International Symposium in Honor of John H. Ostrom. Edited by J. Gauthier and L.F. Gall. Peabody Museum of Natural History, pp. 7–41.
Hope, S. 2002. The Mesozoic record of Neornithes (modern birds). In Mesozoic birds: above the heads of dinosaurs. Edited by L.M. Chiappe and L.M. Witmer. University of California Press, pp. 339–388.
Longrich N. 2006. An ornithurine bird from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 43(1): 1–7.
Longrich N. 2009. An ornithurine-dominated avifauna from the Belly River Group (Campanian, Upper Cretaceous) of Alberta, Canada. Cretaceous Research, 30: 161–177.
Longrich, N.R., Tokaryk, T., and Field, D.J. 2011. Mass extinction of birds at the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) boundary. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108: 15253–15257.
Marsh O.C. 1892. Notes on Mesozoic vertebrate fossils. American Journal of Science, 55: 171–176.
Mayr, G. 2016. Avian evolution: the fossil record of birds and its paleobiological significance. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Chichester, U.K.
McLachlan S.M.S., Kaiser G.W., and Longrich N.R. 2017. Maaqwi cascadensis: a large, marine diving bird (Avialae: Ornithurae) from the Upper Cretaceous of British Columbia, Canada. PLoS ONE, 12(12): e0189473.
O’Connor J.K. and Zhou Z. 2012. A redescription of Chaoyangia beishanensis (Aves) and a comprehensive phylogeny of Mesozoic birds. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 11(7): 889–906.
O’Connor P.M. 2006. Postcranial pneumaticity: an evaluation of soft-tissue influences on the postcranial skeleton and the reconstruction of pulmonary anatomy in archosaurs. Journal of Morphology, 267: 1199–1226.
Olson, S.J. 1972. Osteology for the archaeologist. Number 3: American Mastadon and the Woolly Mammoth; Number 4: North American Birds: Skulls and Mandibles; Number 5: North American birds: postcranial skeletons. Peabody Museum Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Olson, S.L. 1999. The anseriform relationships of Anatalavis Olson and Parris (Anseranatidae), with a new species from the Lower Eocene London Clay. In Avian Paleontology at the Close of the 20th Century. Proceedings of the 4th International Meeting of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution, Washington, D.C., 4–7 June 1996. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, Vol. 89.
Shufeldt R.W. 1915. Fossil birds in the Marsh Collection of Yale University. Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 19: 1–109.
Tanke, D.H. 1999. Relocating the lost quarries of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. In Dinosaur Provincial Park: a spectacular ancient ecosystem revealed. Edited by P.J. Currie and E.B. Koppelhus. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Ind. pp. 54–82.
Tokaryk T.T. and James P.C. 1989. Cimolopteryx sp. (Aves, Charadriiformes) from the Frenchman Formation (Maastrichtian), Saskatchewan. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 26(12): 2729–2730.
Tokaryk T.T., Cumbaa S.L.,and, and Storer J.E. 1997. Early late Cretaceous birds from Saskatchewan, Canada: the oldest diverse avifauna known from North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 17: 172–176.
Zelenkov N.V. 2011. Ardea sytchevskayae sp. nov., a new heron species (Aves:Ardeidae) from the Middle Miocene of Mongolia. Paleontological Journal, 45: 572.

Information & Authors


Published In

cover image Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences
Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences
Volume 58Number 2February 2021
Pages: 134 - 140


Received: 25 October 2019
Accepted: 12 June 2020
Published online: 25 June 2020


Request permissions for this article.

Key Words

  1. Ornithurae
  2. Ornithurine
  3. Neornithes
  4. Campanian
  5. Cimolopteryx
  6. Cimolopterygidae


  1. ornithurés
  2. ornithurinés
  3. néornithes
  4. Campanien
  5. Cimolopteryx
  6. cimoloptérygidés



Sydney R. Mohr
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada.
John H. Acorn
Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2H1, Canada.
Gregory F. Funston*
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada.
Philip J. Currie
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada.


Present address: School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH9 3FE, United Kingdom.
Copyright remains with the author(s) or their institution(s). Permission for reuse (free in most cases) can be obtained from

Metrics & Citations


Other Metrics


Cite As

Export Citations

If you have the appropriate software installed, you can download article citation data to the citation manager of your choice. Simply select your manager software from the list below and click Download.

Cited by

1. Baby tyrannosaurid bones and teeth from the Late Cretaceous of western North America1

View Options

Get Access

Login options

Check if you access through your login credentials or your institution to get full access on this article.


Click on the button below to subscribe to Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences

Purchase options

Purchase this article to get full access to it.

Restore your content access

Enter your email address to restore your content access:

Note: This functionality works only for purchases done as a guest. If you already have an account, log in to access the content to which you are entitled.

View options


View PDF

Full Text

View Full Text





Share Options


Share the article link

Share with email

Email a colleague

Share on social media