8 Birds That Look Like Dinosaurs: A Guide to the Jurassic Park Residents in Your Backyard

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If you imagine a dinosaur looking like a large reptile, long extinct – put that thought aside. Modern science tells us that dinosaurs are still with us today. All you need to do to see a type of dinosaur today is to look out of your window.

Birds are all technically dinosaurs; they are descended from those ancient creatures. They have evolved a long way, but they still show many of the same traits and features as their prehistoric ancestors.

What Birds Are Descendants of Dinosaurs?

All modern bird species trace their origins to a group of mostly meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods. Therapods first appeared during the late Triassic period, around 231 million years ago. Technically, because birds evolved from this common ancestry, they are all still dinosaurs today, just as we are mammals.

Theropods are characterized by hollow bones and three toes and claws on each limb. This dinosaur clade included all the large terrestrial carnivores from the Early Jurassic period until at least the close of the Cretaceous period, around 66 million years ago.

Bird-like animals evolved from small and highly specialized coelurosaurian theropods In the Jurassic period, and those creatures evolved into around 10,500 different bird species living today.

Early in their evolutionary history, birds looked far more like what we think of as dinosaurs today. Some had long, reptile-like tails, teeth, and claws on their hands. And many non-avian therapod dinosaurs had true feathers rather than scales.

The evolution of bird-like dinosaur to bird is commonly believed to have begun with the Archaeopteryx – which was capable of powered flight and had a wing feather arrangement much more similar to a modern bird.

But the more we learn from the fossil record, the more we find that certain specific features of birds have an older origin. Walking on two legs, having feathers, laying eggs, and warm-bloodedness is all features modern birds share with their earlier dinosaur relatives.

Do you know those velociraptors from the Jurassic Park franchise? Scientists now agree that they should have been covered in feathers. Many other dinosaurs we may recognize from films and television also looked rather more like today’s birds than we commonly imagine.

After the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period, birds survived and continued to evolve from this small group of dinosaur descendants. They diversified and developed more specialized features, eventually giving us a huge variety of contemporary bird life.

When you look at birds, remember that these are not only the descendants of dinosaurs, they are technically still dinosaurs themselves.

Which Birds Look Like Dinosaurs?

Since all birds are technically dinosaurs, they all look exactly like dinosaurs.

Modern birds and feathered therapod dinosaurs don’t only have feathers in common. Other anatomical features also make modern birds look like their ancient ancestors.

One thing that links them is their skeletal similarities. There are also similarities in the internal organs of theropod dinosaurs and modern birds, including their lungs and hearts.

Some fossils have also demonstrated that dinosaurs slept like certain modern birds, with their heads tucked under their wings. And female dinosaurs, like female birds today, grew a calcium-rich layer in their bones which is used to make eggshells.

Some dinosaurs sat on their eggs in nests like brooding birds today. And, like modern birds, there is evidence to suggest that dinosaur adults regurgitated food into their young’s mouths like numerous bird species do today.

DNA comparison has revealed strong links between the Tyrannosaurus Rex and living birds like chickens and ostriches. Though, with few case studies, these DNA links are at present difficult to entirely confirm.

In any case, it is clear that there are strong similarities between ancient therapods and modern birds.

Birds That Look Like Dinosaurs

Birds have evolved a long way from their ancient dinosaur ancestors, and some species still have much in common with those ancient therapods from which they evolved. So, here are some birds that still look far more like their ancient dinosaur relatives than other species.

Cassowaries

Cassowaries

These large, flightless rarities are astonishing birds. They have long claws and hard skin-covered casques on their heads. A dinosaur called Corythoraptor jacobsi was found in China. It shares many physical similarities with these birds, including the casques on their heads.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue heron is a bird species with a distinctly prehistoric look. Its feet and many of its anatomical features clearly show its relation to its dinosaur ancestors.

Helmeted Hornbill

Helmeted Hornbill

Another bird with a casque is the rare and endangered Helmeted hornbill. It has a striking appearance, with a bright red casque and solid beak, and it has a maniacal laughter-like call. This bird also shares several physical traits with dinosaur fossils that have been found.

Ostriches

Ostriches

Ostriches, with their flightlessness, quick movement, and slender neck, resemble the ornithomimosaurus, which also had a similar long, thin neck and moved like these modern birds. Of course, as the largest and heaviest bird alive today, the ostrich also recalls the greater size of some of its ancient relatives.

Pelicans

Pelicans

Pelicans are best known for their pouches, which they use to scoop up fish. These pouches are a feature they share in common with an ancient pterosaur found in China. This creature, the Ikrandraco avatar, which lived around 120 million years ago, had a large-toothed beak with a pouch. It is believed that it used this pouch to scoop up its food, just as pelicans do today.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Found across North America, the Sandhill crane reaches nearly four feet in height and has a six-foot wingspan. Interestingly, a fossil from 2-5 million years ago was found in Nebraska that appears to be almost identical to the Sandhill cranes we can see today.

Shoebills

Shoebills

Shoebills are five-foot-tall birds found in the swamps of East Africa. These birds are terrifying predators that have been known to gobble up catfish, monitor lizards and even baby crocodiles. The Shoebill has a hook at the end of its bill that is similar to the bone structure that velociraptor fossils display.

Toucan

Toucan

The modern-day toucan has black and white feathers with a splash of color, similar to a small raptor called Anichorinis. Its serrated beak is a throwback to the teeth of the prehistoric raptor.

Look closer, and you will soon begin to discern many similarities in appearance, certain features, and behaviors between modern birds and the dinosaurs of the distant past.

Even the domesticated chicken and pet birds are true dinosaurs. Remember that, and you can begin to see this clearly if you look closely enough.

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.