A Good Bird Track is Easy to Find: Flannery O’Connor, Her Birds, and Their Traces

Authors of books are sometimes lucky enough to get people interested enough in both them and their books. Even better, these authors are sometimes invited to talk about their books to a receptive audience. Yet I’ll bet few authors get the opportunity to talk about their books with fellow book lovers while also standing on the front porch of a great American author. Even less probable is that the author of a natural history book – one related to paleontology, no less – would somehow have to relate his or her work to a deceased author best known for her Southern Gothic fiction.

It’s a sign! Upon my arrival at Andalusia Farm, the former home of Flannery O’Connor, this sign greeted me at the door, reminding me why I was there. It was fun to think that during Flannery O’Connor’s life, this is how she might have announced a lecture at her place, using a sheet of paper with words, posted on her door. (For the sake of imagination, just ignore that the notice was created and printed by person using a couple of 21st century devices.) Photograph by Anthony Martin.

This past Sunday, I was just so fortunate and challenged, having been invited to speak about my new book, Life Traces of the Georgia Coast, at Andalusia Farm, the former home of famed American writer Flannery O’Connor. Andalusia is located just north of Milledgeville, Georgia, and despite many previous trips to Milledgeville, this was my first visit to Flannery O’Connor’s former haunts. The house and grounds are in a formerly rural setting, its clay-laden driveway just off a busy highway and directly across from a chain hotel. Yet her house is still surrounded by more than 500 acres of forest, streams, and a pond; the pond is visible from the front porch of the house. These natural areas are what attracted me to coming, and provided an avenue for connecting themes of my book with this place.

A view of the main house at Andalusia Farm, where Flannery O’Connor spent more than a third of her life. Her bedroom, where much of her writing also happened, is just to the left after passing through the front porch. Photograph by Anthony Martin.

A sign telling about the recent history of Andalusia. Sadly, it does not include any mention of the Alleghanian Orogeny that contributed to the Piedmont Province there, nor does it inform visitors about the maximum extent of the Cretaceous and Eocene seaways just to the south, nor does it acknowledge the former presence and effects of the Pleistocene megafauna that used to live there. But I suppose all of that would have required a much bigger sign. Photograph by Anthony Martin.

O’Connor is much revered in the Southern U.S. and elsewhere, a loyalty that stems partly from the fact that she was indeed a terrific writer of Southern-inspired literature – consisting of short stories, novels, and essays – and partly from a wistful longing of “If only”: namely, if only she had lived longer. Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, she traveled to what was then called State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa), where she earned an MFA, and soon afterwards began her illustrious writing career. In 1951, she was diagnosed with the same disease (lupus) that killed her father while he was still relatively young. She lived with this debilitating condition for the next 14 years, the last 12 of which were at Andalusia. She was only 39 years old when she died in 1964.

So how did I become a character in a Flannery O’Connor story? I blame it all on a paleobotanist friend of mine at nearby Georgia College and State University, Dr. Melanie DeVore, who suggested to me several years ago that I come to speak at Andalusia about my upcoming book. “Why?” was my first response. After all, as a long-time resident of Georgia, I was embarrassed to admit that I had read very little of O’Connor’s works until just recently. I also could not figure out how the plant and animal traces of the Georgia barrier islands could be related to a Southern author whose home was just above the fall line, between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain provinces of Georgia. Even the Cretaceous seaway from 70 million years past had not washed onto the landscape of O’Connor’s home. Thus I felt hard-pressed to come up with a way for my book to be relevant to her literary contributions and a sense of place.

Still, Melanie continued to encourage me to think about it. Admirably enough, she was trying to find ways in which natural scientists might contribute their perspectives to the considerable scholarship behind O’Connor’s works and the popular appeal of her former home. So I delved into O’Connor’s biographies, and searched for an ichnological connection between what she did and my interests. This is when I found the key, the theme that united: birds.

It turns out that O’Connor was a great lover of birds, and the thought that perhaps she had too many birds never occurred to her during her last years at Andalusia. Peafowl were her favorites for many reasons, some of which she explained ever-so-eloquently in several essays, including one of her most well-known works of non-fiction, The King of Birds. Domesticated birds also abounded on her property, including chickens, ducks, geese, and swans, all part of her avian menagerie. At one time, she evidently owned more than a hundred peafowl, a daunting number when one considers the vociferous qualities of these birds.

A peacock in a spacious enclosure just outside of Flannery O’Connor’s home, graciously displaying his tail feathers for us. See those feet? We’ll take a closer look at those soon. Photograph by Anthony Martin.

One of two peahens in the same enclosure, not nearly as resplendent and gaudy as her male companion, but still a very attractive bird. Of course, I was looking at her feet too, thinking about the tracks she would make, and how these might differ from those of the peacock. Photograph by Anthony Martin.

O’Connor’s earliest few minutes of fame were also bird-related, and established her life-long association with oddities of the South. When she was only five years old, she somehow taught a chicken to walk backwards. This feat attracted a film-reel company (Pathé News), which sent a crew from New York to Georgia to record this atypical avian mode of locomotion. The film reel, shown in theaters in 1932, also parodied O’Connor’s childhood accomplishment by reversing the film for other walking domestic animals, making these animals also appear to also walk backwards.


It’s one thing to read about Flannery O’Connor and her backwards-walking chicken, but it is another to actually see an original film about it. In the reel, she is mistakenly identified as “Mary O’Connor,” but no matter, as it was a start to her enduring fame for inventing quirky actions, plots, and characters reflecting the off-kilter cultures of her Southern environs. Incidentally, just how would you tell the difference between tracks made by a chicken moving forward or backwards? Maybe that should be the topic of a future post…

O’Connor’s link to paleontology was an oblique one, in that (as far as I know) she did not express any interest in it as a subject. Nonetheless, she was a great admirer of paleontologist, Jesuit priest, and philosopher Tielhard de Chardin, and the title of one of her anthologies, Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), came directly from one of his writings. Also, in an “if only” moment of my own during my talk on O’Connor’s porch, I wondered what sort of fiction or essays would have come out of O’Connor had she lived long enough to learn that birds are actually living dinosaurs, and hence she had unwittingly surrounded herself with the progeny of those Mesozoic monsters.

Oh yes, my talk on O’Connor’s porch. How did that go? Fantastically. Because of the gorgeous weather that day, Craig Amason, my host and executive director of the Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation, thought that we might hold the discussion on the screened front porch, rather than inside in one of the more spacious rooms of the house. I was all for this idea, partially for its atmosphere (I mean, how cool would it be to talk about Flannery O’Connor with some of her fans on her front porch?), but also because we planned to have everyone walk on the trails with us later, looking for tracks and other traces of the animals that live there. Melanie and I had already scouted the trails in the morning and found a few surprises, so we knew that part of the program would be great fun, too: might as well get them halfway outside already by being on the porch. Fortunately, all of the dozen or so people who showed up also approved of this plan, which was helped in no small part by a heaping helping of cookies and soft drinks, enticing them to stay right there on the porch for a spell, and perhaps even relax in a rocking chair.

Dr. Bruce Gentry of Georgia College and State University, having just bought a copy of my book, opens it to take a look inside. Dr. Gentry is a scholar of Flannery O’Connor works and heads the Flannery O’Connor Studies Program at Georgia College and State University, in nearby Milledgeville. Meanwhile, I’m in the background, gesturing grandly to the delicious cookies on the table next to me while also introducing everyone to the topic of bird tracks and sign. Photograph by Melanie DeVore.

A sample of our front-porch chat about Flannery O’Connor and her birds, in which I point out the close resemblance between a rooster’s feet and those of a peacock. Although the peacock tracks would have been noticeable larger than those of her chickens, their overall forms would have been nearly the same, with three long thin toe-prints pointing forward, one shorter one pointing backward, and all four ending with clawmarks. Video footage by Craig Amason, exceutive director of the Andalusia-Flannery O’Connor Foundation.

A close-up of a rooster’s feet. Think about the tracks this would produce, whether walking forward or backwards. Rooster was known as “Tom” (R.I.P.), formerly owned by Carol Ruckdeschel on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Photograph by Anthony Martin.

Now compare the rooster’s feet to those of this peacock at Andalusia Farm, and you’ll see for yourself how close they are to one another in their overall form, despite the rear digits being hidden in this photo. I could not help but think that O’Connor, while seeking the pleasure of the company provided by her birds, also saw thousands of similar-looking peacock and chicken tracks every day she went outside. Photograph by Anthony Martin.

The talk itself was mercifully brief on such a fine day, with tracks and other sign awaiting us. So I simply expressed my gratitude for being there with all of us gathered in this special place, talked about Flannery O’Connor’s love of birds, and jumped into a speculative discussion of what tracks she might have seen every day on the farm. My presentation was decidedly low-tech, in which my only visual aids were paper print-outs of bird tracks and feet and a couple of my illustrations from the book, which were of bird-track categories and nests. These were supplemented by my acting out birds motions (walking, mostly), demonstrating how these behaviors would result in certain trackway patterns. One of these, much to the amusement of audience, was of a peacock doing its little circular and sideways-stepping dance, which was followed by my asking them to imagine the trackway patterns that would have resulted from such courting.

I also did a short reading from my book that introduces the topic of bird tracks, which fairly drips with admiration for the complexity of behaviors captured by such traces, thus hopefully echoing O’Connor enthusiasm for birds. Many questions were asked and observations of bird behavior offered, a give-and-take that I thoroughly enjoyed in the role of a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage” (or a “torch on the porch”). Once done, we had a short break for people to buy my book (thanks, y’all!), then walked onto a nearby trail to look at what the wild animals had left us the previous few days.

This outing was enjoyable, a bit of a treasure hunt and an eye-opening experience for many of how much animal activity is embodied by their traces in a typical Piedmont forest and its water bodies. Some of the traces I had seen earlier in the day while out scouting with Melanie, but we saw more, such as previously missed raccoon tracks and woodpecker sign. The highlights included the discovery of fresh (less than 12-hour-old) beaver tracks on one of the stream banks. This delighted several people, who told me that beavers had supposedly moved out of the area years ago, so they were pleased to know that at least one was back in the neighborhood. I was also excited to find coyote scat on the trail, which inspired earthy, amusing comparisons between the territorial markings of mammals in the wild versus those of corporate board members and academics (which, not surprisingly, are not so different in practice).

Coyotes just can’t help themselves: where we see a human footpath, they see an advertising opportunity. Here I excitedly point out an example of coyote scat, which had been strategically placed in the middle of the trail so that all other mammals would know this was her/his territory. You know, just like you might see happen in a professional meeting. Photograph by Melanie DeVore.

Fresh beaver tracks on a stream bank! This was a happy find, as it demonstrated that at least one beaver was in the area, following a nearly five-year absence of their species. These tracks show the beaver turned to its right and walked down the bank and into the water; look for the large rear-foot track to the left, and the tail dragmark in the middle. Swiss Army knife is about 6 cm (2.4 in) long. Photograph by Anthony Martin.

Once this short, ichnologically-infused hike was over, people thanked me and bid goodbye, but a few of stayed behind to take a gander at the peafowl, which were in a large enclosure just behind O’Connor’s house. One male and two females are kept there, and our timing was impeccable, as the male was in full display mode, feathers fully erect and dazzling as he strut about the grounds, while the peahens stayed in the background, mildly impressed or nonchalant. (“Oh yes, he does that all of the time,” I imagined them thinking, mildly bored.) Nevertheless, as far as we non-avian bipeds were concerned, he was indeed the king of birds.

But that’s when my ichnologist hat popped onto my head, askance from its sudden appearance. Craig had told me earlier about the peafowls making a dust bath in the confines of their enclosure, and sure enough, there it was. It matched the width, depth, and shape of dust baths I had written about in Life Traces of the Georgia Coast, only for wild turkeys. Birds make dust baths for alleviating skin parasites, in which they hunker down in them, using their wings to distribute enough fine-grained sediment on them to smother the offending lice or other arthropods. Could such traces preserve in the geologic record, whether they were made by feathered dinosaurs, birds, or mammals? How could we recognize or distinguish these from other shallow depressions? And most importantly, did Flannery O’Connor ever see such dips in the landscape, and if so, did she know their meaning?

A dust bath made by peafowls, about 50 cm (20 in) wide on its longest dimension, and looking a little less dusty after several days of intense rain the preceding week. Still, this was a cool trace to see, and conjured some imaginative thoughts about these as trace fossils. (Peafowl feces extra in the pit: no charge.) Photograph by Anthony Martin.

Another ichnologically inclined thought occurred to me while there at the enclosure, and is worthy of further experimentation. How might we tell the male (peacock) tracks from those of the female (peahen)? Take a look at the following photo, and you tell me. Anything there that might leave a distinctive mark identifying the gender of its tracemaker?

Here comes the groom! Any aspect of this tracemaker’s anatomy that might leave traces telling you he was a boy bird? Photograph by Anthony Martin.

So from this day trip to Andalusia Farm, I was awed, inspired, and ever slightly more enlightened by it all, and hoped that a small amount of the same feelings had been experienced by others who participated in this special day. Still, I was also humbled, realizing how little I still know about Flannery O’Connor, why she connected so well with birds, bird traces and behavior, or how these traces might manifest themselves to us and grace us with wisdom as recognizable trace fossils made in a distant past. Hence from my time there and into my future, I will endeavor to keep in mind the words spoken by Dr. Block, a character of O’Connor’s in The Enduring Chill from the anthology, Everything That Rises Must Converge:

“Most things are beyond me,” Block said. “I ain’t found anything yet that I thoroughly understood.”

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to: my good and long-time friend Melanie DeVore for encouraging me to visit Andalusia to share my science and sense of wonder; Craig Amason for being such a gracious host; Bruce Gentry for his continuing contributions to teaching his students about the complex and varied dimensions of Flannery O’Connor, a great American writer; the people who showed up and made for lively company; and of course the birds and their traces, which will outlive all of us, no matter the lengths of our lives.

Further Reading

Elbroch, M. and Marks, E. 2001. Bird Tracks and Sign of North America. Stackpole Books: 456 p.

Martin, A.J. 2013. Life Traces of the Georgia Coast: Revealing the Unseen Lives of Plants and Animals. Indiana University Press: 692 p.

O’Connor, F. 1955. A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Other Stories. Harcourt, Brace and Company: 265 p.

O’Connor, F. 1965. Everything That Rises Must Converge. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 320 p.

Simpson, M. 2005. Flannery O’Connor: A Biography. Greenwood Books: 152 p.

Of Sandhill-Crane Footprints and Dinosaurs Down Under

Last week, while in Athens, Georgia, I found myself musing about footprints from the barrier islands of Georgia and the Cretaceous rocks of Australia, despite their separation by half a world and more than 100 million years. These seemingly random thoughts came to me during a visit to the Department of Geology at the University of Georgia to give a lecture in their departmental seminar series.

It was a pleasure speaking at the geology department for many reasons, but perhaps the most gratifying was how it was also a homecoming. I had worked on my Ph.D. there in the late 1980’s, and in 1988-1989 had taught introductory-geology classes in the very same lecture hall where I gave my presentation. Several of my former professors, who were junior faculty then, are still there and now comprise a distinguished senior faculty. So seeing them there now, their smiling faces in the audience along with the latest generation of undergraduate and graduate students, generated all sorts of warm-and-fuzzy feelings.

But enough about the present: let’s go back about 100 million years to the Cretaceous Period, which was the subject of my talk. I had actually asked to speak about the modern Georgia barrier islands and their traces: you know, the main theme of this blog and my upcoming book of the same title (Life Traces of the Georgia Coast, just in case you need reminding). Nonetheless, my host and valued friend, paleontologist Dr. Sally Walker, figured that a summary of my latest research on the Cretaceous trace fossils of Victoria, Australia would bring in a wider audience, especially if I used the magical word “dinosaur” in the title (which I did).

For my talk at the UGA Department of Geology, I could have talked about this place – St. Catherines Island, Georgia – and it’s modern traces. After all, it’s only about a four-hour drive and short boat ride from Athens, Georgia.

But instead I talked about this place – coastal Victoria, Australia – and its trace fossils from more than 100 million years ago. Which wasn’t such a bad thing.

In retrospect, she was right, and I thoroughly enjoyed putting together an informative and (I thought) entertaining presentation that shared highlights of fossil discoveries from that part of Australia during the past five years. For the benefit of the students in the audience, basic geology was woven throughout the talk, as I included facets of sedimentology, stratigraphy, geochemistry, paleobotany, paleoclimatology, plate tectonics, evolution, history of science, field methods, and oh yes, dinosaurs. (If you are interested in hearing more about the science and personal experiences behind these recent findings in Australia, these are related in another blog of mine written previous to this one, The Great Cretaceous Walk.)

So how do the barrier islands of the Georgia coast and their animal traces relate to the Cretaceous of Australia? I mentioned the main reason briefly in my talk, but will elaborate more here: I likely owed one of my most important fossil discoveries in Australia to track-imprinted memories gained from field work on the Georgia coast. The fossil find, which happened in June 2010, was of about two dozen thin-toed theropod dinosaur tracks in Cretaceous rocks along the Victoria coast. These tracks represent the best assemblage of dinosaur tracks found thus far in southern Australia, and the largest collection of polar-dinosaur tracks in the Southern Hemisphere. Moreover, some of these tracks just happened to be about the same size and forms of footprints made by sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis).

Comparison between the footprint of a sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), made in moist sand next to a freshwater pond, St. Catherines Island, Georgia (top), and a footprint made by a theropod dinosaur about 105 million years ago on a river floodplain, Victoria, Australia (bottom). Notice the resemblance?

Sandhill cranes do not normally live on the Georgia barrier islands, and nearly all of them simply fly over or stop briefly during their annual migrations from south of Georgia to the Great Plains, or vice versa. However, at least a few have settled on St. Catherines Island, the same place on the Georgia coast where I recently studied gopher tortoise burrows. According to Jen Hilburn, the island ornithologist, some of these cranes found life so comfortable on the island that they stayed. This turned out to be fortunate for me, as I became familiar with their tracks after repeated visits to St. Catherines. Even though these tall, beautiful, and majestic birds restrict themselves to just one island year-round, St. Catherines is big enough to hold a wide variety of habitats and substrates, so I have seen their tracks in salt marshes, next to fresh-water ponds, and along dusty roads throughout the entire length of the island.

Who are you calling a “dinosaur”? A sandhill crane on St. Catherines Island graciously poses for its portrait, helping this ichnologist get a better idea of what an anatomically similar tracemaker might have looked like more than 100 million years ago.

Sandhill-crane trackway on the sandy substrate of a high salt marsh, St. Catherines Island, Georgia. In this environment, its tracks are accompanied by fiddler-crab burrows and feeding pellets, as well as the tracks and dig marks of raccoons hunting the fiddler crabs. Scale (toward the top of the photo) in centimeters.

So to make a long story short, while walking along the Victoria coast last year, I also carried with me mental picture of these tracks in Georgia. These images, I am sure, contributed to my stopping to look at a rock surface that held faint but nearly identical impressions made by dinosaurian feet on the once-soft sediments of a river floodplain. This is how ichnology is supposed to work, and it did.

A comparison between sandhill-crane tracks on the Georgia barrier islands and those of Cretaceous dinosaurs in Australia is actually not as far-fetched as one might think at first. For one, we now know that birds are dinosaurs, evolutionarily speaking. This formerly vague hypothesis is now a certainty, and is based on an ever-improving fossil record of feathered theropod dinosaurs, as well as studies from modern biology that show genetic and developmental affinities between modern birds and theropods. Even so, this idea is not new, either. For example, evolutionary biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), friend and noted proponent of Charles Darwin, readily connected Archaeopteryx, the Late Jurassic bird (or dinosaur, depending on evolutionary perspective) with theropod dinosaurs.

Preceding Huxley, though, was one of the first scientists to formally apply ichnology to fossilized dinosaur tracks, Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864). Hitchcock interpreted the abundant dinosaur tracks of the Connecticut River Valley – many made by theropods – as those of large, flightless birds that lived before humans. Although he never made the evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and birds, his hypothesis reflected anatomical similarities between their feet.

A close-up look at sandhill crane feet while it takes a step. Notice the left foot has a little toe facing backwards, but off the ground. This is the equivalent of our “big toe,” also known as digit I, and it rarely registers in their tracks unless a crane walks in soft mud or sand. Instead, you will see impressions of the other three toes with clawmarks, and the middle toe normally makes the deepest mark.

Theropod dinosaurs, like many modern birds, mostly made three-toed tracks, a condition also called tridactyl. Although theropod tracks are occasionally confused with similar tracks made by ornithopod dinosaurs, they have the following traits: (1) three prominent, forward-facing digit impressions; (2) a footprint that is longer than wide; (3) angles of less than 90° between the outermost digits; and (4) well-defined clawmarks. One of the many changes that happened to bird feet as they evolved from non-avian theropods was the dropping of and rearward projection of their first digit (equivalent to our big toe). This condition was a great adaptation for grasping branches in trees and otherwise getting around off the ground. Bird tracks from the Cretaceous Period also tend to be wider than long, a function of the angles between the outermost toes becoming greater than 90°, and most of these also show the impression of a backward-pointing toe. Sandhill-crane footprint made in firm sand of a high salt marsh, St. Catherines Island, Georgia. Like many bird tracks, this one is wider than it is long, which is unlike most theropod dinosaur tracks. Still, these are very similar to tracks made by certain types of thin-toed theropod dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period. Scale in centimeters.

Much later in their evolutionary history, though, some lineages of birds became either flightless or otherwise spent more time on the ground than in the trees, such as wading birds and shorebirds. These circumstances resulted in their first digit becoming reduced or absent, or vestigial. Violá, the tridactyl theropod-dinosaur footprint came back in style, so to speak, and now dinosaur ichnologists regularly study the tracks and behaviors of birds with such feet to better understand how their theropod relatives may have moved during the Mesozoic Era.

Comparison of a track made by a greater rhea (Rhea americana, right), which is a large flightless bird native to Argentina, to that of an equivalent-sized theropod dinosaur track (right). Both tracks have three forward-facing digits ending with sharp clawmarks and are longer than wide. Scale = 15 cm (6 in). The dinosaur track is a replica of an Early Jurassic theropod (from about 200 million years ago) from the western U.S. Photograph of the rhea track is by Anthony Martin, and of the dinosaur-track replica is by Ty Butler of Tylight™. Scale in the photo to the left = 15 cm (6 in).

Thus while writing the research paper on the dinosaur tracks, I kept in mind the comparison between sandhill-crane footprints in Georgia and the Australian dinosaur tracks. I also recalled how paleontologists had previously measured theropod skeletons – feet and rear limbs, specifically – and proposed a relationship between foot length and probable hip height.

Based on these studies, you can take a theropod track, multiply it by 4.0, and you get the approximate hip height of its trackmaker. When I applied this calculation to the Australian tracks, their hip heights ranged from about 25 to 60 centimeters (10-23 inches). The smallest of these dinosaurs I imagined as chicken-sized; perhaps these were juveniles of the larger ones. But what might be living today that would compare to the largest of the trackmakers? Immediately I thought of herons, but then it struck me that sandhill cranes provided a more apt analogy.

So I think you know where this is going. Adult sandhill-crane tracks are about 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) long, so if you apply the same formula for theropod-dinosaur tracks to them, their hip heights should be 48 centimeters (19 inches). Would this relationship also hold up on a modern dinosaur, such as a sandhill crane?

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I wrote to Jen Hilburn (St. Catherines Island) and asked her to do me a little favor: could she measure the hip height of a living, adult sandhill crane for me? Fortunately, Jen carried out my unusual request (she said it was not easy, so I definitely owe her), and she wrote back with an answer: 58 centimeters (22 inches). This wasn’t a perfect fit with regard to the footprint formula, but it certainly worked for the size of the Australian dinosaurs I had in mind as trackmakers. Based on my study of the Australian tracks, they were made by small ornithomimids, which likewise made thin-toed tridactyl tracks.

After thanking Jen, I delighted in explaining how her measurement of a Georgia-island-dwelling sandhill crane related to a dinosaur-track discovery on the other side of the world. Furthermore, in the Emory University press release that accompanied the publication of the dinosaur-track discovery in August 2011, the reporter (Carol Clark) used my analogy of the trackmakers as “…theropods ranging in size from a chicken to a large crane.”

Sandhill crane walking down a sand pile next to a fresh-water pond and maritime forest on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, and leaving lovely tracks for an ichnologist to study and keep in mind while tracking non-avian theropod dinosaurs.

Artist conception of Struthiomimus, a Late Cretaceous non-avian theropod dinosaur from western North America. Although not a perfect fit, the tracks of cranes and other similarly sized birds can be compared to those of ornithomimid dinosaurs to better discern the presence and behaviors of these dinosaurs. Artwork by Nobu Tamura and from Wikipedia Commons.

What other modern traces from the Georgia coast will contribute to our better understanding the fossil record? Time will tell, and I hope some day to again share those thoughts at my former home – the Department of Geology at the University of Georgia – with friends, students, and colleagues, new and old.

Further Reading

Elbroch, M., and Marks, E. 2001. Bird Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA: 456 p.

Forsberg, M. 2005. On Ancient Wings: The Sandhill Cranes of North America. Michael Foreberg Photography: 168 p.

Henderson, D.M. 2003. Footprints, trackways, and hip heights of bipedal dinosaurs: testing hip height predictions with computer models. Ichnos, 10: 99–114.

Johnsgard, P.A. 2011. Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America’s Wetlands. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NB: 184 p.

Lockley, M.G. 1991. Tracking Dinosaurs: A New Look at an Ancient World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK: 264 p.

Martin, A.J., Anthony J., Rich, T.H., Hall, M., Vickers-Rich, P., and Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec. 2011. A polar dinosaur-track assemblage from the Eumeralla Formation (Albian), Victoria, Australia. Alcheringa: An Australiasian Journal of Palaeontology, article online August 9, 2011. DOI: 10.1080/03115518.2011.597564