10 birds that look eerily similar to their dinosaur ancestors

Cassowaries are native to New Guinea and Australia.

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Cassowaries are native to New Guinea and Australia.
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Shutterstock

  • All birds can be traced back to prehistoric creatures.
  • Many modern birds have retained traits of the dinosaurs they evolved from.
  • Chickens share genetic makeup with the Tyrannosaurus rex.

While what we think of as dinosaurs existed between 245 million and 66 million years ago, all you need to do to catch a glimpse of their descendants is take a look in your backyard. From lanky cranes to common chickens, all birds can be traced back to prehistoric creatures.

Some birds have retained ancient traits like extra claws and pouched beaks, while others have evolved into small, domesticated animals, but all are strong reminders that dinosaurs existed.


A fossil from 2 million to 5 million years ago has nearly the same structure as modern sandhill cranes.

The sandhill crane can be found across North America and can reach nearly 4 feet in height with a 6-foot wingspan. Between their deliberate walk, exuberant mating dance, and rattling trills, it’s easy to imagine one of these birds walking among the dinosaurs.

Sandhill cranes’ ancient relatives have nearly the same structure. According to the International Crane Foundation, a fossil from 2 million to 5 million years ago was discovered in Nebraska that appeared almost identical to modern sandhill cranes.


With 4-inch claws and a tall casque on its head, the cassowary shares physical traits with prehistoric creatures.

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A cassowary in Australia.
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cuatrok77/Flickr

Cassowaries are native to New Guinea and Australia. They have 4-inch claws, a hard casque on their heads, and can jump 5 feet in the air.

National Geographic reported in July 2017 that a dinosaur called the Corythoraptor jacobsi was unearthed in China and shares many physical similarities to the cassowary, including its casque.


Chickens share genetic makeup with the Tyrannosaurus rex.

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Chickens walk on a farm in Maryland.
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Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The domesticated chicken is one of the most common bird species on the planet. According to Statista, in 2011, there were about 20.88 billion in the world. And while they may not seem especially intimidating, they share genetic makeup with the Tyrannosaurus rex.

In a study published in 2008, researchers compared tissue found in a 68-million-year-old T. rex bone to 21 modern creatures, including alligators and chimpanzees. The study found that the T. rex’s tissue was more similar to chickens and ostriches than to any other animals, including reptiles.


Shoebills are known to eat baby crocodiles.

The menacing shoebill stands as tall as 5 feet and can be found in the swamps of East Africa. These huge birds gobble up smaller prey, including catfish, monitor lizards, and baby crocodiles.

Shoebills communicate by clattering their giant bill together, creating a call that has been compared to the sound of a machine gun. According to Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service, the hook at the end of the shoebill’s bill is similar to the bone structure of a velociraptor.


Baby hoatzins have extra claws growing from their wings for climbing.

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Hoatzins at the Manu National Park in Peru.
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Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters

The hoatzin is a common South American bird with tall plumage on its head, a bright-blue face, and piercing red eyes. Baby hoatzins grow an extra set of claws on their wings so that they can hide in water if threatened by predators and then climb back up to their nest.

According to research published in 2015 cited by the National Audubon Society, hoatzins are a unique species that separated from other birds approximately 65 million years ago, and their closest relatives are cranes and plovers.


Pelicans’ pouches are reminiscent of pterosaurs that lived 120 million years ago.

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Pelicans catching fish.
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B. Mathur/Reuters

Over six different species of pelicans live around the world. They’re known for the giant pouch attached to their beaks, which they use to scoop up fish.

The Ikrandraco avatar, a pterosaur found in China and thought to have lived 120 million years ago, had a large, toothed beak with a pouch. According to researchers, the pouch indicates the creature may have scooped up its food, similar to a pelican.

Read more: Dinosaurs’ flying relatives had bird-like feathers on their wings and fuzzy fur on their bodies, new fossils reveal


The helmeted hornbill has a unique and vibrant beak.

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The helmeted hornbill.
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Doug Janson/Wikimedia Commons

The helmeted hornbill, with its striking appearance and maniacal-laughter-like call, is nothing short of a living, breathing dinosaur.

However, helmeted hornbills are critically endangered. They’re found only in Borneo, Sumatra, and southern Thailand. They have a prominent red casque and are often hunted for their solid beaks and sold on the black market.


Creatures just like the modern ostrich have been found fossilized in Canada.

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Ostriches crossing a road at the Nairobi National Park in Kenya.
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Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

The ostrich is an intimidating flightless bird that can reach 9 feet tall, 350 pounds, and run up to 43 miles an hour. Using its strong legs, an ostrich can kill a human, lion, or other threat with a couple of swift kicks.

The Ornithomimus, a Mesozoic-era dinosaur discovered fossilized in Canada, has similar traits to an ostrich. The Smithsonian, citing the journal Cretaceous Research, reported that both creatures have dense feathers covering their bodies, long necks, and bare legs, which help to regulate body heat.


The vicious red-legged seriema shakes its prey to death.

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A red-legged seriema.
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Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes Follow/Flickr

The 1-meter-high red-legged seriema is a vicious bird commonly found in eastern regions of South America. The carnivore’s diet includes venomous snakes and whole quail eggs.

When they catch their prey, red-legged seriemas shake it in their beak, beat it on the ground, and ultimately tear it to pieces. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, red-legged seriemas are relatives with Phorusrhacids, which are extinct creatures known as “terror birds.”


The large Canada goose makes honking noises like its prehistoric ancestors.

Canada geese can grow larger than 3 feet tall and can be found near bodies of water in North America. They make distinct honking noises to interact with one another.

In 2016, researchers discovered that the Vegavis iaai, which was found fossilized in the Antarctic Peninsula, likely made honking noises similar to a goose. Researchers found that the Vegavis iaai had a syrinx, which creates the squawking noises.