'Wonderchicken': Meet the small but mighty bird that outlived the dinosaurs

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By Luke Hurst  with AP
The fossil dubbed 'Wonderchicken'
The fossil dubbed 'Wonderchicken'   -  Copyright  AP

An ancient fossil is giving scientists an insight into how an early ancestor to today’s chickens and ducks survived the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Nicknamed "Wonderchicken", the little fossil is around 66.7 million years old, and was found in a Belgian quarry when an amateur fossil collector saw its bones sticking out of the ground.

"This provides us with the first direct glimpse we've ever had of a bird from about 66.7 million years ago," explained Daniel Field, from the University of Cambridge.

Along with colleagues he announced the find in the journal Nature.

"This is only a few hundred thousand years before the asteroid struck and wiped out the dinosaurs. And so, our new fossil, which we like to call the 'Wonderchicken', provides us with unprecedented insight into how modern birds survived that extinction event that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs."

Scientists think the evolution of the family tree for modern-day-birds was in a very early stage when the asteroid struck, says Field.

The fossil shows some traits that have been proposed as beneficial for surviving. It was small and its legs suggest it did not live in trees, an important factor since forests were thought to have been devastated by wildfires.