Want to See a Dinosaur?

Skip Jurassic World, and just look outside. Here's why.

This weekend millions of moviegoers will crowd into theaters to experience the towering presence of a T. rex or the shriek of a Velociraptor. What they might not realize is that there are about 10,000 species of living, breathing dinosaurs all around us. We just call them birds.

As this video on PBS' “It’s Okay to Be Smart” Youtube channel explains, the birds we see every day on park benches and window ledges actually evolved from dinosaur ancestors that lived 150 million years ago—specifically, from maniraptoran theropods, relatively small dinosaurs that, like their modern-day descendants, laid eggs, were covered with a feathery coat, and had fused clavicles (aka wishbones).

The small stature of these avian forebears helped spare them the fate that befell their more sizable peers. As the video explains, when a meteor crashed into what’s now the Yucatan Peninsula some 65 million years ago and set into motion a mass extinction—as the prevailing theory holds—some smaller dinosaurs were able to survive in part because they required less food than their larger cousins. Over time, as their once-useless plumage evolved into a tool for flight and their squawks and cries were fine-tuned, these avian dinosaurs transformed into the birds we know today.

Read the cover story on the bird-dinosaur link from Audubon’s January-February issue.