Dinosaurs or Birds? Facts About 20 Feathered Dinosaurs

A brown feathered dinosaur is hunting on the ground

Source by: The New York Times

Feathered dinosaurs. What’s the first thing that came to mind when you read that? We wouldn’t be surprised if it was bewilderment, surprise? Maybe even a sigh of relief that finally, dinosaurs are becoming scientifically accurate in the eyes of the public.

And we’re a hundred percent in on that too. That’s why we’re sharing 20 attractive facts about feathered dinosaurs to help you grasp this scientific discovery and appreciate dinosaurs for who they really are.

Some of the dinosaurs with feathers in that exhibit for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) are on this article’s list as well. This just might shake up the way you think about dinosaurs too. So, are you ready to discover something new? Let’s go!

List of Feathered Dinosaurs

Acheroraptor temertyorum

A brown acheroraptor temertyorum dinosaur toy

Source by: Etsy

Acheroraptor temertyorum was a feathered dinosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous period. Its fossil, a jawbone, was discovered by Dr. David Evans, Dr. Philip Currie, and Derek Larson in 2013 at Montana’s Hell Creek Formation.

It has a close resemblance and relationship with other feathered dinosaurs like the Velociraptor and other long-snouted dinosaurs in North America and Asia. This led to the conclusion that it possibly had feathers too.

Dr. Evans notes that its discovery also shows how dinosaur migration happened from Asia to North America because of that “evolutionary relationship” with those dinosaurs. This gives scientists a clearer picture of how dinosaur communities formed until the Cretaceous period.

Anchiornis huxleyi

Black and white feathered birdlike dinosaur with red feathers on the head

Source by: Science

Anchiornis huxleyi is the world’s oldest feathered dinosaur. A nearly complete fossil was discovered by a farmer in Liaoning, China in 2009.

The fossil discovered had feathered limbs and feet with curved claws which were described by scientists Dongyu Hu, Lianhai Hou, Lijun Zhang, and Xing Xu. The scientists share in their scientific paper in Nature that the A. huxleyi can be more connected to the Troodontidae. It’s a family of dinosaurs who were bird-like by nature.

Their discovery shows how dinosaurs most likely transitioned to birds over time. And also, how feathers have always been a part of dinosaur anatomy.

Archaeopteryx lithographica

A grey archaeopteryx lithographica is standing on the tree

Source by: New Scientist

Archaeopteryx lithographica started out as a 150-million-year-old fossilized feather when the specimen was discovered in Germany in 1861. The picture slowly gave way to a feathered dinosaur the size of a raven as more fossils were found in later years.

It lived during the Late Jurassic period and its skeletons serve as an important piece of the puzzle for scientists who are studying the origin of birds. The bird-like features found on this feathered dinosaur’s skeletons were feather impressions and wings.


Some details about avimimus

Source by: DeviantArt

Avimimus was a feathered dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period who looked like a cross between a parrot and a 5-foot chicken. It was birdlike in its physical anatomy but it’s more closely related to birdlike dinosaurs instead, oviraptorosaurs. That’s also how its name was inspired, features that mimic a bird’s.

The fossils found of the Avimimus showed that it had parrot-like jaws and quill knobs on its limbs. And though it had feathers, most scientists don’t believe it had the ability to fly.

Caudipteryx zoui

A black feathered caudipteryx zoui is standing on the ground

Source by: Twitter

After the lifetime of the Archaeopteryx came the Caudipteryx that was a feathered dinosaur. It lived during the Early Cretaceous period 125 million years ago (MYA) and had uncanny bird-like features.

The fossils discovered from Liaoning, China show that it was the size of a peacock and had pennaceous feathers on its hands. It also had a body that was covered with short feathers.

So, was it a dinosaur or a bird? The debate is still ongoing and paleontologists have differing opinions about this dinosaur with feathers. Mark Norell and Gareth Dyke say it isn’t, while late paleontologist Halszka Osmolska and Philip Currie say that it is. We don’t know yet for sure until further studies establish a conclusive argument.

Citipati osmolskae

A black and blue citipati osmolskae is running on the ground

Source by: Rushelle Kucala

Have you ever imagined a dinosaur with feathers that guarded its eggs lying safely in a nest? Or one that tended to them when they were hatched and grew older? No, we aren’t talking about a bird. But rather, a feathered dinosaur from which bird behavior may have originated — Citipati osmolskae.

Citipati osmolskae is another birdlike dinosaur that’s part of the oviraptorid genus. Its fossils were first discovered in 1993 in Mongolia. These fossils were comprised of oviraptorid embryos and skulls. Dr. Mark Norell considered those as proof that these feathered dinosaurs were animals that brooded

So what do these discoveries imply? Recent studies by Dr. Norell in 2014 and 2018 suggest that the brooding poses of the C. osmolskae show the possibility of large wings.

The studies also suggest that this feathered dinosaur had tails with feathers and plumage too. When you bring these together, these show behavior that’s similar to modern-day birds that could provide a link as to their relationship with the dinosaurs.

Confuciusornis sanctus

Two confuciusornis sanctus in a dark green background

Source by: A Dinosaur A Day

So far, we’ve discussed feathered dinosaurs who were simply birdlike. Now here’s one that’s actually classified as a bird, the Confuciusornis sanctus.

This 125-million-year-old pigeon-sized bird was discovered in 1993 in China’s Yixian and Jiufotang Formations. The fossils found were skeletons with toothless beaks, short tails, big claws, wings, and feather impressions on their limbs. It had long wings but its flight was limited to only short periods of time, unlike modern birds.

Deinonychus antirrhopus

A brown deinonychus antirrhopus is running on the ground

Source by: Fandom

The description of the feathered dinosaur, the Deinonychus, was considered the mid-20th century’s most important paleontological discovery. This was important to scientists because it showed a dinosaur that was agile and warm-blooded, unlike older perceptions where dinosaurs were slow and cold-blooded. This fresh news led to a renewed interest in dinosaurs again and was given the term, dinosaur renaissance.

Paleontologist John Ostrom was the person who described the ground-breaking description of the Deinonychus. He was the one who also studied its forefeet, compared them with birds, and found similarities. The hypothesis from Ostrom’s study sparked the revival of the idea that birds originated from dinosaurs.

While there isn’t direct evidence yet that Deinonychus had feathers, scientists like Phil Senter see the way its arms were able to move as good evidence that it likely had feathers.

Gastornis gigantea

A gastornis gigantea is hunting in the forest

Source by: Pixels

Did you know this flightless feathered dinosaur was taller than pop culture’s favorite Velociraptor? Yes, the Gastornis gigantea stood six feet tall in its hay day during the Cenozoic era. They also had large beaks and huge skulls whose fossils were first discovered in Paris in 1855.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) says G. gigantea is the Velociraptor’s close relative. They go on to share that this feathered dinosaur is “one more fascinating fossil organism in the unbroken line between one group of dinosaurs and modern birds”.

So yes, G. gigantea is a bird. And birds really are most likely modern-day dinosaurs.


Some beautiful gold jinfengopteryx are drinking water

Source by: John Conway’s Art

What’s in a name? This feathered dinosaur’s name, Jinfengopteryx, means golden phoenix which is seen in Chinese folklore as the queen of all birds. It’s easy to see how this name was inspired.

The scientists who studied its fossil in 2005 discovered pennaceous feather impressions on several parts of its body like its neck, limbs, body, hips, and legs. They also found tail feathers that were long and vaned.

The fossil really gave the impression that it was a bird. Subsequent studies in 2006 and 2007, however, redirected this perception. These suggested that the Jinfengopteryx was a birdlike dinosaur rather than a bird. This dinosaur with feathers was later classified under Troodontidae.

Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus

Some details of a brown kulindadromeus zabaikalicus

Source by: DeviantArt

By now, we’ve probably settled it in our heads that specific dinosaurs with feathers aren’t such a weird idea. Now, how about all dinosaurs had feathers? That’s a pretty incredible idea to wrap our heads around but paleontologist Pascal Godefroit would like to help us get along with it.

In his 2014 study, Godefroit and his colleagues studied a Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus fossil and discovered that it belonged to a different non-theropod group. Theropods were thought to be the only dinosaur group with feathers. But their study provides convincing results that other groups have been feathered dinosaurs too.


A brown lithornis in a white background

Source by: Google Arts & Culture

Lithornis was a feathered dinosaur whose flight abilities were good, unlike previous feathered dinosaurs who couldn’t fly at all. The bones of their wings were found to closely resemble vultures’ and storks’ wings.

In contrast, asymmetrical though, the birds that came out of its lineage included flightless ones (ratites) and those who could barely fly (tinamous). This shouldn’t come as a surprise as there were already clues in their lifetime like their eggshells that were like ratites’.

Messelornis cristata

A flying messelornis cristata

Source by: Twitter

This prehistoric bird is the sunbittern’s extinct relative who lived 50 MYA. It’s a good piece of evidence showing how feathers already existed millions of years ago which just evolved over time. The Messelornis cristata’s fossil was discovered in Messel, Germany.

Microraptor gui

A black Microraptor gui is flying

Source by: ArtStation

Can you imagine a feathered dinosaur with four wings? So far we’ve only tackled two, but Microraptor gui gives us a pleasant surprise with four. The American Museum of Natural History explains that its wings had feathers that were assymetrical and were most likely used to glide.

The Microraptor gui is primarily a dinosaur even with its birdlike features. It belongs to paravian dinosaurs that were theropods from the Late Jurassic period. These theropod dinosaurs also include the avialans, the group where thousands of today’s birds come from.


Some details about ornithomimus

Source by: DeviantArt

Another tall birdlike feathered dinosaur is the Ornithomimus. And as its name suggests, its features evidenced by fossils really do mimic a bird’s.

Ornithomimus fossils found were discovered to have wings, long necks, and skulls that had long toothless beaks. They also had long legs and big eyes. Feather impressions and shafts supporting pennaceous feathers were also found in the Ornithomimus. A study in 2012 suggests that their plumed wings were used to attract possible mates rather than flight.


Some information about protarchaeopteryx

Source by: DeviantArt

Protarchaeopteryx is a feathered dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous period that was just the size of a turkey. It was a dinosaur whose tail feathers were asymmetrical, leading scientists to conclude it couldn’t fly. The purpose for its feathers was most likely for parachuting as it jumped from tree to tree.

Sinornithosaurus millenii

A brown feathered sinornithosaurus millenii in a blue background

Source by: ProBoards

This feathered dinosaur isn’t just birdlike but it’s lizard-like too. Its name was inspired by its features that were discovered in fossils found in 1999 in China’s Yixian Formation.

One of the scientists, Xu Xing, found that the S. millenii’s features closely resembled Archaeopteryx. The resemblance was important because it showed that early dinosaurs were more like birds than later species. This gives scientists an idea of how dinosaurs evolved over time and a deeper understanding of the origin of birds.


An orange feathered dinosaur is walking on the ground

Source by: Google

Did you know that Sinosauropteryx was the first feathered dinosaur taxon to be discovered outside the Avialae group of dinosaurs?

When it was described in 1996, the scientists found its fossil to have evidence of feathers that were similar to filaments. It’s also a very small dinosaur that’s classified as a compsognathid. It only grew up to 3.51 feet long and only weighed as heavy as 1.21 lbs.

Xiaotingia zhengi

A black xiaotingia zhengi is hunting on a tree

Source by: Dinosaur Pictures

Archaeopteryx used to be thought of as modern birds’ oldest ancestor. But this feathered dinosaur, Xiaotingia zhengi, got scientists thinking twice.

It’s a birdlike dinosaur with feathers that lived 11 million years earlier than the Archaeopteryx with similar physical features. The X. zhengi was feathered from its head to its body and limbs. Its hind limbs had long feathers and probably used its limbs as wings. Its forearms, on the other hand, were for flapping.

Yutyrannus huali

A feathered brown yutyrannus huali

Source by: Green Tea and Velociraptors

Last on the list is everyone’s favorite dinosaur — the T. rex or anything that looks like one. But this time, it’s a feathered dinosaur called the Yutyrannus huali. It’s the T. rex’s older cousin who, according to the AMNH, sported a coat of feathers that predated the structure of modern birds’.

Did the Yutyrannus fly because it had feathers? The AMNH says it isn’t likely because it was so heavy.

This dinosaur with feathers weighed 1.5 tons! No amount of feathers would be enough to make it fly if it was that heavy. Its feathers were most likely to attract mates.

The Purpose of Dinosaur Feathers

Some feathered dinosaurs in the forest with a blue sky background

Source by: The Guardian

Out of all the dinosaurs we learned about in this article, only a few used them for flight. And when they did, it was only for a short period or minor movements like parachuting down a tree.

So what did dinosaurs with feathers use them for?

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) shares a good analogy about feathered dinosaurs and modern-day birds. This comes from their exhibit in 2016 called Dinosaurs Among Us.

Some feathered dinosaurs are in the forest with a beautiful sky background

Source by: New York Post

The museum shares that different birds use their feathers for different reasons that are unique to their species. For example, peacocks used feathers to attract mates. Penguins used them to help them swim underwater. While herons, use feathers to block the sun when hunting so they could see prey more clearly under the waters.

Other times, just like the Deinonychus and the Yutyrannus, they’re used for insulation. Feathers help keep them warm. In other cases, feathered dinosaurs use them to help immobilize prey and protect their nests as Velociraptors did.

FAQs About Feathered Dinosaurs

Two feathered dinosaurs are running on the ground with many leaves

Source by: ThoughtCo

What Dinosaurs Have Feathers?

In fact, these feathered dinosaurs are popping up everywhere! The most well-known feathered dinosaurs come from the Coelurosauria branch, which includes not just tyrannosaurs and birds but also ornithomimosaurs, therizinosaurs, and compsognathids. We’re seeing more of these creatures in even earlier times.

What is the Largest Feathered Dinosaur?

The largest known feathered dinosaur, with a length of 23 feet, is changing the popular image of its most iconic relative. Yutyrannus huali lived 125 million years ago, and it’s the first tyrannosaur discovered with large feathers.

A feathered dinosaur is running in the forest

Source by: ABC News

Why Did Some Dinosaurs Have Feathers?

It’s been proposed that feathers originally evolved for heat insulation, and they still serve that purpose in the downy feathers of little birds. Over time, they’ve been modified in birds into structures that carry out flight.

Did T-Rex Have Feathers?

Scientists theorize that dinosaurs first evolved feathers to stay warm. However, while a young T. rex would have needed insulation, an adult T. rex would not because it would be able to heat up its own body temperature.

A colorful dinosaur is standing on the ground

Source by: Only Dinosaurs

What do you think about that? It’s a great lesson to teach kids too, isn’t it? Especially if they aren’t aware yet that dinosaurs had feathers.

You can introduce feathered dinosaurs to them by using creative props like dinosaur costumes. You can also show them the feathered animatronic dinosaurs at the theme park for a more interactive experience.

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