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Art by Barry Kent MacKay

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Art by Barry Kent MacKay

Barry MacKay Barry Kent MacKay birds Hesperonis
(Artwork - 030) Hesperornis

This is the generic name of a series of bird species that lived, and because extinct, in the late Cretaceous period, some 83 to 78 million years ago. So they were contemporaneous with many species of dinosaur.

All that we know of them, we know from the study of their fossilized remains. They were quite large, flightless waterbirds, who had large feet and, unlike any modern bird species, still had teeth…that is, they had not evolved far enough from their reptilian ancestors to lose the teeth.
We think, from fossil imprints, that their long toes were lobed, like a coot’s or grebe’s, and not joined like a loon’s or cormorant’s, but we can’t be absolutely sure, and so I didn’t show the feet. We have no idea of their colour, so I had to guess in this restoration. Most restorations show them as black above and white below.

Many waterbirds are that colour combination, and the “rules” of countershading tend to dictate that birds are generally lighter below than above.  But grey is another colour that occurs, in various shades, in modern waterbirds, so I kind of compromised by giving the bird white underparts, a grey body, but with a blackish back.  It’s all guess work. We also don’t know how much, if any, of their faces were bare, but again that would be in keeping with a bird living in a tropical climate. Bright primary (red, blue, yellow) and secondary (green, orange and purple) colours don’t tend to occur in the feathers of waterbirds (especially if you exclude ducks) but often do occur in the unfeathered portions, so I chose a pinkish colour, reflecting a skin colour common where blood influences the final appearance. I thought of painting an elliptical pupil in the eye, to emphasize the reptilian heritage, but round really does work better and is more likely to be “selected for” through the evolutionary process, I thought, in a species that has to see above and below water. I gave the bird a deep “gape line” and the suggestion of an early form of gular pouch, to accommodate a diet of fishes and probably baby marine reptiles. 
These birds lived in what is now western North America (at least, probably in the east too, but glaciers removed much of the rock that would have held their fossils), but they did die out…they did not continue to evolve into modern species. Probably the closest modern bird to them in appearance is one I soon hope to illustrate, the flightless Galapagos Cormorant.

I based this restoration on images of skulls and skeletons.

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Copyright © Barry Kent MacKay
Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.
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