Let’s not forget how cool dinosaurs probably looked

We know a little bit about how dinosaurs probably looked: we’re learning that a lot of them had feathers, and even beginning to be able to figure out what patterns might have been on their plumage. But there’s a lot we don’t know; we may never know for sure.

In evolutionary biology, when you don’t know something about an extinct species—what kind of nest it built, or what sounds it made, or how many babies it had—you look at the species that evolved from it. You infer that it probably was similar to at least some of its descendent lineages. For dinosaurs, then, we would look at birds.

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I remember, as a kid, thoughtfully coloring my dinosaur coloring books and paper-mache dinosaur scultures in shades of green and brown. I knew about camouflage, and I was sure that this earthy color palette must have been the one favored by these animals. Silly me.

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Scary birds

In honor of Halloween: some birds you would not want to meet in a dark alley at night. (Warning: first two sections contain photos of predation.)

Shrikes

Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Jeff Jones.

Shrikes are medium-sized birds—the Northern Shrike is slightly smaller than an American Robin—and, upon first glance, fairly unassuming. Perhaps you notice the somewhat raptor-like bill; perhaps the extra notch on that bill, the tomial tooth; perhaps not. But it is only because you are much, much bigger than a shrike that you can afford to be so careless of this fearsome predator.

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