Paleontologists hunting for dinosaur tracks in B.C.'s Peace Region have unexpectedly discovered tiny footprints that they believe could be among the oldest bird tracks in the world.
The amazing find was discovered when a huge rock slab was sent from the nearby canyons to the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre for analysis of tracks possibly made by the meat-eating theropod Allosaurus.
But next to the large dinosaur footprints, Tumbler Ridge paleontologist Lisa Buckley found four tiny tracks, likely belonging to ancient shore birds.
"[These were] little birds that would have looked a heck of a lot like the sandpipers, the plovers, and even larger wading birds like storks and herons and ibises," said Buckley.
According to a news release from Tumbler Ridge Museum vice-president Charles Helm, the canyon where the prints were discovered cuts through rock laid down about 140 million years ago.
Helm says this makes the tiny footprints the oldest in the Peace Region and among the oldest bird tracks in the world.
Just as impressively, Helm says, at the time these rocks were formed, the Peace Region was located at a latitude of approximately 62 degrees north. .
Dinosaurs trampled the canyons
Buckley said the canyons near Tumbler Ridge are a gold mine for paleontologists and their rocks are a rich source of dinosaur tracks.
"These are the oldest track-bearing rocks we have in the Peace and likely in Western Canada."
Tumbler Ridge and the Peace Region are already known for their fossil bird tracks, albeit from four younger Cretaceous rock formations.
According to Helm, the canyons in the mountains west of Tumbler Ridge were systematically explored for their fossil potential in 2013.
Other important finds included a footprint left by a sauropod — the largest animals ever to live on land — and another site with huge markings possibly left after multiple sauropods trampled the area.
Multiple trackways were also found in another canyon, covering an area of almost 1,000 square metres. These were made by large theropod and ornithopod dinosaurs.
All of the new discoveries will eventually be displayed in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge Museum.