THE ORIGINS OF BIRDS
In this WebQuest, students do some Internet research on the origin and evolution of birds. They learn about evidence linking birds to theropod dinosaurs, and about characteristics that birds share with reptiles. They learn about new fossil discoveries that are challenging the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs. They identify fossils that are older than Archaeopteryx, fossils that already had feathers. They compile information and complete a table that compares and contrasts the different fossils that shed light on the evolution of birds. Finally, they answer the question: are birds really dinosaurs?
Students will complete a table that lists recent fossil discoveries as they explore the Internet sites given. Each web site has some of the information they will need to complete the table, but several of the fossils are discussed on more than one web site. Students should be able to compile information on at least five fossils that show evidence of a relationship to birds. From their Internet research, students should also be able to answer the question: are birds really dinosaurs?
- Discuss the evidence for, and against, the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
- Identify several of the fossils that provide evidence of bird evolution.
- Contrast and compare the characteristics of fossils that provide evidence for the origins of birds.
Students will use the Internet links given to find out all about the origins of birds. They will learn why scientists theorize that birds evolved from dinosaurs. They will also learn about new fossils that challenge that theory, and why. They will also explore how feathers evolved, and whether feathers preceded the ability to fly. Finally, students will complete a table and form an opinion as to whether birds are really dinosaurs.
2 class periods; approximately 60 minutes for research and 20 minutes to prepare table and answer question
As students progress through the list of web sites, you may help them to focus on what they need to know to fill in the table. Several of the web sites have links to other web sites with relevant information. If time allows, you may want to allow students to explore this subject further. However, many of the sites eventually return to those listed on the student page.
Click Here for Rubric
For your evaluation of student work, consult the table below.
Table 1. Origins of Birds
Name of Fossil
(millions of years)
|was an archosaur, a type of reptile; was neither a bird nor a dinosaur; had complex set of feathers and a furcula (wishbone) - both bird
|has clawed toes, scaly feet, wings, feathers (bird characteristics); has teeth, flat sternum (reptile characteristics)|
|had symmetrical feathers; thus, couldn't fly; fast runner; similar to theropod dinosaurs|
|skeleton of dinosaur surrounded by a fuzzy halo; could be down feathers or protofeathers |
|looks like a bird; had feathers and short, clawed wings; had a beak with no teeth, like modern birds |
|had feathers; had a tail fan of feathers; was a runner; couldn't fly; similar to theropod dinosaurs|
|a dinosaur; had folded arms like birds do; only birds fold arms in this way|
Once students have completed the table, you may wish to use the rubric below for scoring. The rubric is based on five fossils in the table.
Scoring Table 1. Origins of Birds
|Table Presentation Rubric||Possible|
|At least five fossils were included||10|| || |
Table had at least four columns of information
|10|| || |
|Age and location of fossil given||10|| || |
At least two pertinent facts given for each fossil listed
|10|| || |
Information listed correct and relevant to bird-dinosaur discussion
|10|| || |
|Total Possible Points||50|| || |
Rate each category according to this scale:
Excellent – 9-10 points;
very good – 7-8 points;
good – 5-6 points;
satisfactory – 3-4 points;
poor – 1-2 points;
unsatisfactory – 0 points.
Students should be able to fill in the table and answer the question: are birds really dinosaurs? Student answers will vary; accept all reasonable answers. Students should be able to support their answers with information gathered in their Internet research.