An illustration of a newfound ancient bird about to prey on a mammal running up a tree. The bird

An artist’s interpretation of what the newfound species (Cratonavis zhui) may have looked like, with the fossilized skeleton superimposed on top of the bird’s body. (Image credit: ZHAO Chuang)

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About 120 million years ago, a fearsome bird with a skull that looked eerily similar to that of a Tyrannosaurus rex flew the early Cretaceous skies, hunting for a meaty meal to gobble down, a new study finds. A newly described specimen of this previously unknown species provides clues about how birds began to finalize their evolutionary divergence from the rest of the dinosaurs.

Modern birds are descended from dinosaurs, making them the only dinosaur lineage that survived the planet-shaking asteroid impact that wiped out the rest of their kind around 66 million years ago. But exactly how birds evolved from the rest of the theropods — a bipedal group with hollow bones and three toes or claws on each foot, which includes avian dinosaurs as well non-avian dinosaurs, such as raptors like Velociraptor — is still unclear.

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