Abstract

We revisit the holotype of Calcardea junnei Gingerich, 1987 from the latest Paleocene (Clarkforkian) of the Willwood Formation (Wyoming, USA). The species is based on a partial skeleton and was originally assigned to the Ardeidae (herons). As we show, this classification cannot be upheld and Calcardea Gingerich, 1987 more closely resembles the taxon Vastanavis Mayr et al., 2007 (Vastanavidae), a parrot-like bird from the early Eocene of India. Even though C. junnei is a large bird, its long wings and short tarsometatarsus argue against a predominantly terrestrial way of living, and the morphology of the tarsometatarsus and pedal phalanges instead suggest strong grasping feet. We conclude that an assignment of Calcardea to the landbird clade (Telluraves) is better supported than its classification into the waterbird clade (Aequornithes), which includes Ardeidae and other ‘ciconiiform’ and ‘pelecaniform’ taxa. Calcardea junnei is one of the oldest known representatives of Telluraves and its morphology shows plesiomorphic features, which contributed to its previous misidentification as a heron. Calcardea exhibits a distinctive osteology and affords a glimpse of a previously unknown late Paleocene avian morphotype.

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