•  Reconstruction of Archaeornithura meemannae and its fossils (below).

Reconstruction of Archaeornithura meemannae and its fossils (below). (Photo : Wang et al., Nature Communications)

A newly discovered species of an ancient bird discovered in Hebei, China has turned out to be the oldest known relative of today's birds.

In a study published in Nature Communications, scientists said the pre-historic "Archaeornithura meemannae" lived some 130.7 million years ago in northeastern China. This timeline places the existence of this wading bird some six million years before the previously thought origin of modern birds.

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The extinct bird looks strangely similar to modern birds. The bird pictured in the reconstruction is faithful to the two well-preserved fossils discovered in the Sichakou basin in Hebei.

It stood 15 centimeters tall and was the earliest known member of the Ornithuromorpha branch that also gave us Neornithes, or modern birds, said Phys.org. The previous oldest known example of Ornithuromorpha lived about 125 million years ago.

This detailed fossils show a near-completely preserved plumage of the bird along with anatomical features characteristic of an aerodynamic lifestyle and maneuverability during flight.

Researchers said the absence of feathers on the bird's upper indicates the bird was a wading bird that foraged for food in swamps, lakes and other bodies of water.

"The new fossil represents the oldest record (about 130.7 million years ago) of Ornithuromorpha," said study co-author Wang Min of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"It pushed back the origination date of Ornithuromorpha by at least five million years" and the divergence of modern birds by about the same timeline.