Coliiformes (mousebirds) are represented by just six extant species. These species, restricted to sub-Saharan Africa, are all primarily frugivorous and are among the most sedentary of living birds. Previously described fossil Coliiformes preserving feather traces share the short, rounded wing shape of extant mousebirds. Along with osteological evidence, these observations have been proposed to support poor sustained flight capabilities across the stem mousebird lineage. We report a new species of Coliiformes from the early Eocene (51.66 ± 0.09 Ma) Fossil Butte Member of the Green River Formation, represented by one of the comparatively few fossils from these deposits preserving carbonized traces of the wing and tail feathering. Feather traces indicate an elongate, tapering wing shape similar to that of some extant aerial insectivores, and suggestive of a capacity for sustained and agile open-air flight. Traces of the rectrices reveal the tail accounted for approximately two-thirds of the total length of the bird, a proportion similar to that in living mousebirds. Phylogenetic analysis places the new species as a stem representative of Coliiformes, demonstrating for the first time that the two major clades of Coliiformes – Sandcoleidae and Colii – co-occurred at Fossil Lake. Based on the recovered phylogeny, as well as the osteology and feathering of extant and fossil Coliiformes, the wing shape of the new species is interpreted as apomorphic. In addition to documenting unexpected morphological specialization within stem-lineage Coliiformes, the new species adds yet another taxon to the emerging reconstruction of the diverse Paleogene avifauna from the tightly dated and nearly synchronous fossiliferous deposits of the Fossil Butte Member.
© 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 160, 685–706.