Most helpful positive review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very Interesting, Fascinating and Helpful.
on 16 February 2015
This is a fascinating work presented after the fashion of a well illustrated guide to modern birds. Each known fossil pro-bird or bird is depicted, in chronological order, by a coloured drawing with a carefully worded description on the opposite page. Inevitably there has to be a certain amount of guess work as to plumage colour, but so much has been discovered with regard to bird evolution, notably in China, over the past twenty years or so that it's now possible to fill in a vast number of 'gaps' enabling us to discern, ever more clearly, the gradual progress towards the kind of birds we have in the world of today.
The actual guide to the large number of Mesozoic birds is prefaced with helpful chapters defining what is meant by the term 'birds', bird ancestry, the origin of feathers, the first birds, Mesozoic bird diversity, the evolution of flight and work involved in restoring the feathers, wings, beaks, teeth and feather colour of these ancient birds and bird ancestors. It's all very well written in a very readable, readily absorbed style accompanied by some helpful illustrations and diagrams and this work is especially good with regard to its helpful details concerning the evolution of feathers, which is also well illustrated in a diagram on page 20.
The actual guide to each known Mesozoic bird begins with the most primitive known birds progressing through to the advent of the direct ancestors to modern birds appearing at the end of the Cretaceous, the last of the three periods (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous) in the Mesozoic Era, the end of which dates back to circa 65 million years ago. Beside the coloured illustration of each Mesozoic bird is a box containing a grey silhouette of a human with a blue silhouette of the bird in question beside it, which enables the viewer to have an excellent idea of the actual size of the bird. In a few cases the ancient bird in question is so large it dwarfs the human, whereas, in others, the bird in question is smaller than a sparrow.
The earliest birds all had teeth and it was sometime before toothless beaks became standard among all birds. It is all very clear now that birds evolved from a certain type of dinosaur. In fact, strictly speaking, they are dinosaurs, which means that dinosaurs are not extinct. The closest living relatives of birds are crocodiles, which, unlike most other reptiles, have a four chambered heart like birds. However, since the ancestors of crocodiles branched off from the reptiles before the rise of the dinosaurs, they are not very close to birds, which also evolved brittle shelled eggs different from the soft-shelled reptile variety. Birds have also evolved very good brains often rivalling the cleverest of mammals.
Perusing this work is like as if the reader is living there with these ancient birds, expecting some of them to appear in the room with him/her, except that you don't want the big ones to do that as that would be very frightening. I keep this work alongside my field guide to modern European birds. Comparing the old with the new is a fascinating exercise. This work is a wonderful idea and the author, Matthew P Martyniuk, deserves high praise for bringing it to us in such vivid fashion.