The Messel Rail was a small species of early bird and was about 20 centimetres long. It had very long legs, a hardened crest on top of its head and longer tailfeathers. It probably hunted near the water’s edge looking for small insects and fish. A fossil found in Germany showed a fish still in the birds throat! Based on the size of its eye, it is thought that the Messel Rail hunted during the evening and night, probably evading potential predators. The species is placed within the same order as the sunbittern, a small heron-like bird mainly found in South America.
Europe and North America
The Messel Rail is by far one of the most abundant fossilized species of early bird ever found, with over 500 skeletons discovered in Germany, Denmark, France and the USA. It was first described in 1988 in the shales of the Messel quarry. There are four species of Messelornis known, but M.cristata is best studied of all.
Morlo, M. (2004). Diet of Messelornis (Aves: Gruiformes), an Eocene bird from Germany. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, 252, 29-33.