Like any proper child, I was fascinated by dinosaurs growing up; the fossilized trilobites and corals and clams that abounded on the farm were nice, but dinosaurs had the real gusto. So the discovery that birds might have been descended from dinosaurs, while it didn’t spark my initial interest in ornithology, was definitely a plus.

It’s almost as difficult to choose a favorite ancient extinct bird or pre-bird as a favorite modern extinct bird (and believe me, despite my apparent partisanship, it is difficult!) One uses different criteria. Ancient extinct birds provoke a different sort of melancholy, the one about time and chance happening to all things as opposed to the one about being part of a family of very stupid and careless monkeys who never know what they have until it’s gone.

For my money, though, it’s hard to beat Confuciusornis. Part of it is aesthetic – the wings! the tail! the little claws! Its size and the suggestion that it was omnivorous raise pleasant associations as well. Plus, it doesn’t have as many bandwagon fans as Archaeopteryx. I’m always one to root for the underdog – or bird.

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