Category Archives: bird

Microraptor (Wild Safari by Safari Ltd)

Now available from Amazon.com here.

Microraptor is a relatively recent discovery, but it has quickly become very popular with dinosaur enthusiasts. And why not? It’s one of the best known dromaeosaurs, with a whopping 300 or so fossil specimens spread out globally in various museums. It’s also one of the smallest known dinosaurs, being only around the size of a crow. And with its full plumage and four wings, it would have been truly wondrous to see this unique little animal swooping through the Liaoning forests of China some 120 million years ago.

A Microraptor is one of thirteen new Wild Safari toys for 2017. Appropriately, this individual has been captured in full flight with its front wings outspread, its legs bent, and its long tail held straight out behind it. Well, it’s supposed to be straight, but the one on mine is slightly warped. This gives it a length of just over 18 cm as well as a wingspan of 17.5 cm. Unlike its tripod counterpart in the Carnegie Collection, this Microraptor balances on just its feathery hind limbs, with its tail held off the ground.


It’s presently unknown who the sculptor of this figure is, but he or she clearly possesses genuine talent. The contour feathers covering the Microraptor‘s main body are too small for a lot of detail, but the larger flight feathers on its four wings look very marvelous indeed. Each of these feathers features visible vanes and barbs. The flight feathers are arranged in multiple layers just like on extant flying birds, beginning with the large primaries and secondaries at the edges, then going to greater coverts, median coverts, lesser coverts, and scapulars at the shoulders and hips. The tail features a small fan with two extra long feathers trailing out from the tip. The featherless muzzle, fingers, and toes have faint wrinkles and the mouth features tiny but sharp teeth. The feet feature the distinctive “killing claws” that mark this animal as a member of the famous and deadly dromaeosaur family, in spite of its small stature. For a long time, paleontologists debated over whether Microraptor was a mere glider or a proper flyer, but the most recent studies have concluded that it was indeed the latter.


Another admirable feature of this figure is just how full and streamlined it looks. As you can see from the group shot below, the Carnegie Microraptor has a rather skinny neck and body that gives it a reptilian appearance in spite of its ample feathering. By contrast, this one’s neck is covered in so much contour feathering that it looks nice and thick. This Microraptor really looks and feels like a true bird to me. My wife feels the same way. She’s rather averse towards birds in general (especially ones that aren’t afraid of coming up close and begging/attempting to snatch food), and her initial response to this toy was a decisive “EWWW.” I love her so much. 🙂

Another fascinating fact about Microraptor is that we actually know what colour its feathers were! In 2012, a team of researchers used scanning electron microscope techniques to analyze fossilized melanosomes found in a particular fossil specimen. They concluded that Microraptor had dark, iridescent plumage just like a modern grackle. But here’s where my one beef with this toy arises. As you can see, it is coloured black all over with pale yellow for its muzzle, fingers, and toes, medium skin tone for the mouth tissue and the patches around the orange eyes, pink for the inside of the mouth, and white teeth. But the black is a dull, flat tone, not iridescent at all. Whereas the 2015 Archaeopteryx figure has a much more vibrant appearance despite the fact that it too is mostly black in colour.

Flatness aside, this is still an absolutely superb figure in terms of anatomical accuracy and sculpting detail. The Wild Safari Microraptor is definitely going to please any feathered dinosaur fan.

Heartiest thanks go out to FaunaFigures.com for selling me so many awesome prehistoric toys over the past two years. This has been my 125th review for the DTB! 😀

The Safari Ltd Wild Safari Microraptor is now available from Amazon.com here.

Diatryma and Phorusrhacos (Starlux)

Review and photos by Lanthanotus, edited by Suspsy

A few months ago I stumbled upon pictures of several dinosaur figures made by the French company Starlux while I was reading through the “Recent Acquisitions” thread in the DTF. I looked up this company and found that they had made a great array of dinosaurs as well as some very obscure and rarely depicted prehistoric animals. The overall quality in regards of accuracy, however, ranged from poor to more or less decent. Some of this could be excused by the time that the figures were made (from 1969 onwards), when technical limitations as well as outdated or unsufficient reconstructions made accurate modelling a hard job, especially when the aim was to produce a somewhat cheap toy. Despite the often poor accuracy and detailing, Starlux figures boast a certain charm, and at least some of them are great in terms of both detailing and accuracy. Let me introduce you to two examples.

img_9002

Today, Diatryma is considered a species of the genus Gastornis, but back in 1970, when this figure was released, Diatryma was a valid taxon. Gastornis species dwelled in Europe, North America, and China during the Cenozoic era, around 56 to 45 MYA. The flightless birds grew up to 2 metres tall and were long considered to be carnivorous, hunting small mammals such as the early ancestors of our modern horses. That kind of diet was under discussion for years and recent studies of the calcium isotopes in Gastornis bones suggest that it actually lived a vegetarian’s life.

img_8988

Starlux’s rendition of this enormous flightless bird is outdated, yet quite accurate for its time and in comparison with other Starlux figures. The bird is covered in a thick, shaggy coat of hair-like feathers, similar to those seen in today’s ratites. But this is a feature that has been deemed incorrect, as what was formerly thought to be fossilized feathers were really plant fibers. Isolated fossils of broad, vaned contour feathers have since been found and are probably related to Gastornis, so its plumage was probably smoother like that of most living birds. Wings are not visible as Gastornis‘ wings were greatly reduced and were probably not visible under its feathers. The figure’s head is as big as it should be and so is its beak. The hooked tip of the beak is incorrect though, and while the beak may also be too broad, the lower mandible is as deep as it should be. The legs appear thinner than in most renditions of the species, but are probably correct when compared with modern flightless birds. The feet, however, have a somewhat weird, cross-like appearance where all the toes(digits I to IV) are arranged in 90 degree angles to each other. This include the hallux (digit I), which is shown as a fully developed, weight-bearing toe, while in fact it was greatly reduced and placed a good deal above the ground. This feature, however, may be a concession to stability in the figure. Starlux’s Diatryma is shown in a hunched-over stance as if it was picking around for something on the ground. The remains of a poor, slaughtered equine perhaps. Or for more modern renditions, nuts or fruits. The figure stands 4.2 cm tall including the base and seems to be more robust than the thin legs and the inflexible plastic may suggest.

img_9001

The second figure of this review is a model of the famous terror bird Phorusracos, although it seems Starlux may have made a mistake with the name, as the figure is listed as “Phororacos” in the Toy Animal database as well as frequently on eBay France where I got mine. Phorusracos was a monotypic species of the Patagonian Miocene, 20 to 13 mya. This giant flightless bird grew even taller than Gastornis (up to 2.5 metres) and lived a predatory lifestyle. The bird boasted a long skull with a strong, hooked beak and long legs ending in sharp claws.

img_8991

The Phorusrhacos stands 6.5 cm tall and is depicted in a fully erect stance. While this posture may natural and correct, the hump on the steep back looks quite awkward. The small wings are clearly visible but are placed too far towards the back. The bird seems to be coated in a variety of feathers. The wings show a small array of contour feathers, the tail feathers as well as the ones surrounding the head seem to be neatly arranged (and are therefore also contour feathers with strong vanes), and the remaining part of the neck and the body seem to be covered in hair-like feathers.

img_8987

The head is finely sculpted with a mean, raptor-like expression. The strongly accented eyes as well as the brows add to this effect. The feet and legs appear to be the same as in the Diatryma, but the latter are slightly longer in this figure. The paint job in this model is way more attractive than the Diatryma. The green of the base is a bit sloppily applied in both models, leaving the feet poorly painted, but overall, the paint job is acceptable.

img_9004

Despite some inaccuracies, I highly recommend both these figures to any collector of the post-Mesozoic megafauna, especially as the selection of prehistoric birds is very limited due to a lack of attention by toy and model makers (though this is most likely related to a lack of interest by customers). Both figures are long out of production but can easily be found on eBay for a few Euros.

Copepteryx (Kaiyodo Dinotales Series 3)

The Japanese toy company Kaiyodo isn’t afraid to tackle the obscure and one of the best examples of this would have to be the Kaiyodo Copepteryx. While other companies make and re-make the same tired old prehistoric favorites here we have Kaiyodo making a very obscure extinct bird that you’ve probably never heard of and who’s name I can never remember (maybe writing this review will fix that). I mean, prehistoric bird collectables are rare enough but what the heck is a Copepteryx?

Copeteryx1
Copepteryx is a genus of aquatic flightless bird that lived around Japan during the Oligocene, 28-23 million years ago. The fact that it lived in Japan is probably the real reason Kaiyodo decided to produce one. Copepteryx would have looked and behaved much like extant penguins but is not related to them, thus serving as a great example of convergent evolution. Its closest living relatives include other seabirds like gannets, boobies, and cormorants and it does closely resemble a cormorant. In another example of convergent evolution there is a species of flightless cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi) that lives on the Galapagos Islands. It should also be mentioned that the Copepteryx was a very large bird, standing as tall as an adult human.

Copeteryx2
Although less exciting than other prehistoric birds like the Phorusrhacids or some of the Mesozoic species this is still quite a lovely model. In color scheme is resembles a penguin with a dark back and white underside but this is a believable color choice for any sea-going animal. The back is streaked in brown which may have helped this bird blend in even more with rippling water. The color choices and application are most appreciated on the face where a white neck is flecked in black spots with a dark circle around the eye that streaks off towards the ear. There is some pink and orange coloration under the eye that gives way to yellow. The throat is pink with darker pink spots. Much like the related boobies the feet are emphasized, being teal colored in this case. These color choices alone make this a believable and eye-catching model. There is a close resemblance to extant bird species without copying the look of any one bird.

IMG_0703
The Copeteryx is posed rather like a penguin or cormorant, standing upright on a rocky base with wings outstretched. The wings are more modified flippers of course than actual wings. The long sinuous neck is gently curved and looking towards the left. The breast of the bird is particularly well sculpted and looks much like the breast of a duck or other water bird with a clear indentation down the center of the chest. There is a slight bulge that indicated the presence of the bird’s crop where the neck meets the body as well. Tiny features like this that often go amiss in modern bird reconstructions by other companies only reinforce Kaiyodo’s superiority.

Copeteryx4
While the Kaiyodo Copeteryx looks too much like a modern bird to generate much excitement, those that truly appreciate the diversity of life on earth will find it worth collecting. Not every animal was a Triceratops or mammoth, there were rather mundane animals around as well. When you take the time to learn about them though you find that every animal is a fascinating representation of evolution and diversity, with its own unique backstory spanning the ages of time. Kaiyodo collectors will naturally want this model but anyone with tastes as equally diverse as earth’s fauna and an appreciation for well-crafted and obscure prehistorics will find a place on their shelf for this little guy. They’re fairly cheap too, going for less than $10.00 on eBay.