On the Ark Encounter poster, the families Protarchaeopteridae and Caudipteryidae are found on the list of Ark Kinds, but both are classified as reptiles. This is interesting because Answers in Genesis has repeatedly discussed these creatures, and I certainly got the impression they saw them as flightless birds.

Their earliest article on the subject, posted in 1998, says that the “fossils, Protarchaeopteryx robusta and Caudipteryx zoui, are claimed to be ‘the immediate ancestors of the first birds.’”

“The immediate ancestors of the first birds” is shown in quotation marks but is not cited. I could not find this quote, or even a related claim, in any of their sources. The Nature article describing the finds says that “Analysis shows Caudipteryx to be the sister group to the Avialae … The placement of Protarchaeopteryx as the sister group to Caudipteryx + Avialae, as the sister group to Velociraptorinae, or as the sister group to Velociraptorinae + (Caudipteryx + Avialae) are equally well supported by the data.”

The perspective article notes that “Ji et al.1 show that these animals belong to a group of dinosaurs known as the maniraptoran coelurosaurs, which include the small theropods most closely related to birds.”

They also cite “Washington Post, 25 June 1998”, with neither title nor author, making it an awfully vague citation. I could not find any relevant article with that date, but there is one from the following day, which notes that “None of the birdy dinosaurs or dinosaury birds can be called the ‘missing link,’ and no such perfect intermediary species is likely to ever turn up, Ji says, because the evolution of birds was not so orderly and clear-cut as that. There was much parallel development and many overlapping lines of descent.”

Thus, all three sources agreed from the beginning that these are neither birds nor an ancestor to birds, but part of a sister group to birds.

At the end of the Answers in Genesis article they state that “Evolutionary ornithologists Larry Martin and Allan Feduccia, strong critics of the dino-to-bird dogma, believe that the fossils are more likely to be flightless birds similar to ostriches.” As far as I can tell, this has always been the debate regarding these specimens in the scientific community. They were either flightless birds or representatives of a sister group to birds. I cannot find a single instance of anyone claiming that they were the immediate ancestor to birds.

Answers in Genesis doesn’t give an opinion on whether they are birds or dinosaurs (which they consider to be mutually exclusive categories) in this first article. And in most articles they don’t directly state that these species are birds. They do repeatedly state that these species had true feathers, which most of the YEC community would take to mean that they are birds. But Answers in Genesis has been leaving the possibility that some non-avian dinosaurs may have been feathered open more and more often, at least in their written materials. In public presentations I’m pretty sure I’ve heard both Calvin Smith and Bodie Hodge definitively state that dinosaurs did not have feathers within the last two years. However I saw Calvin’s presentation live and don’t have a recording, and I’m not listening to Bodie’s again to find the reference. I only found one written article where they directly state that these species are birds because they have feathers:

“The latest discovery of feathers on the birdlike, turkey-sized ‘theropods’ Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx indicate that they are flightless birds.”

The more common claim in their articles is that it is now the scientific consensus that these species are birds. For example:

“Two taxa (Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx) that were thought to be dinosaurs with true feathers are now generally conceded to be flightless birds.”

There is a similar quote in https://answersingenesis.org/evidence-against-evolution/biological-evolution/

From my perusal of the literature I’m not sure that’s true. Some later analyses did find that these species as birds, making the position less controversial than when it was just Martin and Feduccia making this claim, however I think the majority of experts still believe they are a sister group. In fact, even Feduccia, writing in 2015, stated that the theory that “Caudipteryx derived from earth-bound theropod dinosaurs … is the predominant view among palaeontologists”.

But the best evidence that these species are not “generally conceded to be flightless birds” is the fact that whatever source Answers in Genesis used to pull together the Ark List obviously listed them as non-avian dinosaurs. This led them to classify these kinds as reptiles, in spite of statements on their own website such as:

“fossil finds considered to be dinosaur precursors to birds have turned out to be flightless birds similar to ostriches, such as Protarchaeopteryx robusta and Caudipteryx zoui.”

Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether these species are birds or not. Both flightless birds and reptiles were supposed to have two specimens on the Ark, so which category they were in on the list would not affect the overall count. Still, I find it interesting that this major research project they are so proud of somehow missed all of their own writings on the subject, from their scientific journal to their kid’s page!

Featured image by Jonathan Chen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80508347