Plumage of the Past: 15 Feathered Dinosaurs Worth Knowing

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 23rd September 2023

A 3D Tyrannosaurus with feathers concept - leonello via Istock
A 3D Tyrannosaurus with feathers concept – leonello via Istock

The link between birds and dinosaurs was one of the biggest debates in the world of paleontology for many years. 

This controversy seems to have been laid to rest with the discovery of fossil evidence confirming that the birds descended from dinosaurs. 

In the evolutionary journey that took them from scaly lizards to flying aves, dinosaurs passed through a transitional stage, with numerous species having feathers and other bird-like traits. 

The discovery of these dino-birds has helped us understand the evolutionary relationship between avian and non-avian dinosaurs.

In this article, we’ll list some of the most fascinating feathered dinosaurs worth knowing. 

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15. Albertonykus 

An Albertonykus illustration
An Albertonykus illustration – Karkemish – License
Name MeaningAlberta claw
EraMesozoicLate Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height0.5 meters (1.6 feet)
Length0.7–1.2 meters (2.3–4 feet)
Weight2-5 kilograms (4.4–11 pounds)
LocationCanada (North America) 

Fossils of the Albertonykus were found in association with another theropod dinosaur as far back as 1910. 

But the dinosaur’s bones remained abandoned in museum drawers until the 21st century. 

On closer look, scientists found the Albertonykus to be a small feathered dinosaur closely related to the Alvarezsaurus, another bird-like dinosaur.  

Unlike its South American relatives, Albertonykus lived in North America about 68 million years ago. 

The dinosaur was one of the first known members of the North American alvarezsaurid group. 

Albertonykus was a small dinosaur, only about 2.5 feet long.

It survived on an insect-based diet, using its large thumb claw to open up wood and rotten logs to find termites. 

14. Anchiornis 

Illustration of the basal troodontid Anchiornis huxleyi
Illustration of the basal troodontid Anchiornis huxleyi – Matt Martyniuk – License
Name MeaningNear bird
EraMesozoic – Late Jurassic
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height34 centimeters (13 inches)
Length60–62 centimeters (1.97–2.03 feet)
Weight110 g (3.9 oz)
LocationChina (Asia)

Anchiornis lived in the western Liaoning region of China about 160 million years ago. 

The tiny bird-sized dinosaur had typically raptorial features such as feathers on both its forelimbs and hindlimbs. 

But the Anchornis was not a dromaeosaurid dinosaur. 

It was more closely related to the Troodon, a much bigger theropod dinosaur. 

Anchiornis fossils are well-preserved in the fossil record. 

In fact, some of these fossils were so well-preserved that scientists have been able to make out the possible colors of the Anchornis’ feathers. 

It was black or gray with specks of white on its arms, legs, and tail. 

It also had colorful, mohawk-style feathers, which formed a prominent crest on top of its head. 

13. Anzu 

Life restoration of Anzu wyliei
Life restoration of Anzu wyliei – Fred Wierum – License
Name MeaningFeathered daemon Anzû bird in ancient mythology
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height1.5 meters (5 feet)
Length3–4 meters (10–13 feet)
Weight200–300 kilograms (440-660 pounds)
LocationUSA (North America)

The Anzu is a relative of the Oviraptor 

It lived in North America during the Cretaceous Period (between 68 and 66 million years ago). 

This means the bird-like dinosaur lived alongside popular North American dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus rex. 

The discovery of the Anzu in 2014 makes it the first oviraptor with a confirmed presence on the North American continent. 

The Anzu was also the second feathered dinosaur discovered in North America. 

Standing at a height of about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) at the hips and a weight of about 200 to 300 kilograms (440–660 pounds), Anzu was one of the biggest oviraptors ever found,  

It had a toothless beak and lived on an omnivorous diet. 

12. Dilong 

Dilong 3D concept
Dilong 3D concept – CoreyFord via Istock
Name MeaningEmperor dragon
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height1 meter (3.3 feet) at the hip
Length2-3 meters (6.5-10 feet) 
Weight6-13 kilograms (13-28 pounds)
LocationChina (Asia)

The Dilong is a primitive tyrannosaurid, which means it is an older relative of the Tyrannosaurus

It lived in China during the Early Cretaceous Period, several million years before the T. rex evolved in North America. 

The two-meter-long predator was the first member of the tyrannosaurid family to be discovered with a simple feather on its body. 

The discovery of feathers on a basal tyrannosaurid like this suggests that the T. rex and other younger relatives of this dinosaur may have had feathers as well, at least on some parts of its body. 

The Dilong’s feathers were different from that of modern birds. 

It was probably for warmth and display purposes, but not for flight. 

11. Caudipteryx

Caudipteryx 3D rendering
Caudipteryx 3D rendering – mariephoto28 via Istock
Name MeaningTail feather
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height1m (3 feet)
Length72.5–89 centimeters (2.38–2.92 feet)
Weight5–10 kilograms (11–22 pounds)
LocationChina (Asia)

Caudipteryx was a theropod dinosaur about the size of a peacock. 

This Cretaceous dinosaur had feathers and other bird-like features such as beaks and avian-like feet. 

The similarities between this dinosaur and bird were so many that paleontologists once classified it as a bird. 

The Caudipteryx’s body was covered with black feathers with visible white banding. 

It also had feathers on its tail and well-developed wing feathers.  

However, the structure of the wing feathers shows that they were incapable of flight. 

The dinosaur’s name translates as tail feathers, referencing one of its most distinctive features. 

The discovery of this Caudipteryx provided the clearest and most convincing evidence of the link between dinosaurs and birds. 

10. Velociraptor 

Velociraptor 3D illustration
Velociraptor 3D illustration – warpaintcobra via Istock
Name MeaningSwift plunderer
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height0.6 meters (2 feet)
Length1.8 meters (6 feet) 
Weight15-20 kilograms (33-44 pounds)
LocationMongolia and China (Asia) 

This dromaeosaurid is one of the most recognizable dinosaurs to the general public. 

It was made famous by its appearance in the Jurassic Park movies. 

However, the onscreen version of this Cretaceous monster had several anatomical inaccuracies. 

The movie version was much bigger than the real-life version and also had scales on its body. 

The real Velociraptor was approximately 0.5 meters tall, about the same size as a turkey, and about 1.5 to 2.07 meters (4.9–6.8 feet) long.

The presence of quill knobs on the forearm of this dinosaur also indicates that it had wing feathers.

Like other dromaeosaurs, the most prominent feature of this dinosaur was the enlarged claw on its second digit. 

The sickle-shaped claw, which was up to 6.5 centimeters (2.6 inches) long, was useful for restraining prey. 

9. Oviraptor 

Life restoration of the Late Cretaceous oviraptorid Oviraptor
Life restoration of the Late Cretaceous oviraptorid Oviraptor – PaleoNeolitic – License
Name MeaningEgg thief
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
DietUncertain (omnivorous or herbivorous)
Height1.2 meters (4 feet)
Length1.5-2 meters (5-6.5 feet)
Weight20–30 kilograms (44–66 pounds)
LocationMongolia and China (Asia)

When the first fossil of the Oviraptor was discovered in 1923, the dinosaur was found straddling a nest of 15 eggs

Consequently, it was labeled as an “egg thief” that probably met its end while trying to steal ceratopsian eggs. 

The name Oviraptor, which means egg-seizer, was assigned to the newly discovered genus. 

With the discovery of more nesting oviraptors in the 1990s, scientists now know that the Oviraptor was brooding over its eggs instead of stealing them as initially presumed.

Yet, the damage was already done, and the name Oviraptor stuck forever.  

In addition to brooding over eggs, which is typical avian behavior, the Oviraptor also had feathers on its body. 

It had a horny beak similar to that of turtles and lower jaws similar to the jaw of parrots.  

8. Gigantoraptor 

Life restoration of the giant Late Cretaceous Gigantoraptor erlianensis
Life restoration of the giant Late Cretaceous Gigantoraptor erlianensis -PaleoNeolitic – License
Name MeaningGigantic plunderer
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height5–6 meters (16–20 feet) 
Length8 meters (26 feet) 
Weight1.5–2 tons (3,300–4,400 pounds)
LocationChina and Mongolia (China)

As the name suggests, the Gigantoraptor was a massive dinosaur. 

It was the largest member of the Oviraptorosauria group, with a height of about six meters. 

Gigantoraptor lived in Mongolia during the Late Cretaceous Period. 

Although bigger than many of its other close relatives, the Gigantoraptor still had feathers, at least on some parts of its body. 

These feathers were probably not useful for insulation but still served sexual display purposes. 

For many years after its discovery, Gigantoraptor held the title of the largest animal with feathers ever discovered.

 It was later displaced by the Yutyrannus, which was discovered in 2012. 

Gigantoraptor was a bipedal omnivore with a generalist diet. 

7. Yutyrannus

Life reconstruction of Yutyrannus huali
Life reconstruction of Yutyrannus huali – Tomopteryx – License
Name MeaningFeathered tyrant
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height3 meters (10 feet) 
Length7.5–9 m (24–30 feet)
Weight1,400-1,500 kg (3,100-3,300 lbs)
LocationChina (Asia)

A relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex, the name Yutyrannus translates as “feathered tyrant.” 

This genus of theropod dinosaur lived in the northeastern region of China during the Early Cretaceous Period.

Yutyrannus was a gigantic bipedal predator that was up to nine meters long.

It is currently ranked as the largest carnivorous dinosaur with direct evidence of feathers. 

Note that other larger dinosaurs, like the tyrannosaurids, may have had feathers, but evidence for this is not preserved in the fossil record. 

More than one specimen of this dinosaur has been found with feathers preserved in fossil imprints. 

The Yutyrannus had feathers on various parts of its body, including the pelvic area, neck, legs, and arms. 

It also had long, backward-pointing feathers on its tail.  

The feathers were relatively short (in the form of filaments) and served the primary purpose of insulation during cooler seasons. 

6. Gobivenator

Gobivenator Restoration
Gobivenator Restoration – Danny Cicchetti – License
Name MeaningGobi Hunter
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height0.3m (1 foot)
Length7 meters (5.6 feet)
Weight9 kilograms (20 lb)
LocationMongolia (Asia) 

The Gobivenator’s home range covered parts of the present-day Gobi Desert back when it was still a lush forest habitat.

It was a carnivore that thrived on the population of lizards, amphibians, and small mammals that were quite abundant in that region of Central Asia during the Late Cretaceous Period. 

Although known from only one specimen, the dinosaur’s bones were discovered in such great condition that it is considered the most complete troodontid specimen from the Late Cretaceous Period. 

Gobivenator was a relatively small theropod dinosaur. 

It had an average length of about 1.7 meters (5.6 feet) and weighed up to nine kilograms (20 pounds). 

5. Citipati 

Citipati 3D rendering
Citipati 3D rendering – CoryFord via Istock
Name MeaningFuneral pyre lord
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
DietOmnivorous or herbivorous
Height1.2 meters (4 feet) at the hip
Length2–3 meters (6.5–10 feet)
Weight83 kg (183 lb) 
LocationMongolia (Asia) 

Citipati is one of the largest oviraptorid dinosaurs ever found. 

Length estimates for this dinosaur varied between 2.5–2.9 meters (8.2–9.5 feet), and it weighed up to 83 kilograms (183 pounds) on average. 

It is known from well-preserved specimens that provide a good idea of how it might have looked and some of its most notable behaviors. 

Citipati is one of several oviraptorid dinosaurs whose fossils have been discovered in bird-like brooding position in association with its eggs.

A brooding pose like this suggests that the dinosaur most likely had large wings, plumage, and prominent tail feathers. 

In addition to the bird-like feathers of the Citipati, this dinosaur also had a robust parrot-like jaw and was most likely an omnivore.  

4. Microraptor

The Microraptor 3d rendering
The Microraptor – CoryFord via Istock
Name MeaningSmall thief
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height0.4 meters (1.3 feet) at the hip
Length0.8-1 meter (2.6-3.3 feet) 
Weight1 kilogram (2.2 pounds)
LocationChina (Asia)

The four-winged Microraptor is one of the smallest feathered dinosaurs ever found. 

It lived in China during the Early Cretaceous Period, 125 to 120 million years ago. 

Hundreds of fossils of this dromaeosaurid dinosaur have been discovered so far. 

Because of the abundance of Microraptor fossils, the dinosaur serves as an essential link to understanding the relationship between dinosaurs and birds better.

Evidence of feathers is well-preserved for this dinosaur. 

Studies show that the Microraptor had blue-black feathers with an iridescent sheen, similar to modern crows.  

Although most feathered dinosaurs were incapable of flight, studies suggest the Microraptor was capable of gliding or even powered flight. 

Yet, it is considered a non-avian dinosaur, which means it was not a bird. 

3. Hesperonychus

The Hesperonychus
The Hesperonychus – Added by Disneysaurus to Dino Fandom
Name MeaningWestern claw 
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height0.6 meters (2 feet)
Length1.2 meters (4 feet)
Weight1.9 kg (4 pounds) 
LocationAlberta, Canada (North America)

Also known as the western claw, Hesperonychus was one of the smallest dinosaurs ever found in North America. 

It was also one of the smallest carnivorous dinosaurs to have ever lived. 

This dromaeosaurid dinosaur is a relative of the Velociraptor and has the signature sickle-shaped claw that all raptors are known for. 

Hesperonychus was less than one meter long and weighed about two kilograms (4.4 pounds) on average. 

Given its size, experts believe this dinosaur was capable of gliding down from trees or going from branch to branch using its feathered wings. 

It preyed on small mammals, lizards, and other small animals in its ecosystem. 

Competition between small dinosaurs like this and the small mammals of the Late Cretaceous kept the mammals from growing to large sizes until the dinosaurs disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous. 

2. Nanuqsaurus 

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Nanuqsaurus Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Nanuqsaurus Concept
Name MeaningPolar Bear Lizard
EraMesozoic – Late Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
Height2–3 meters (6.5–10 feet) 
Length4–6 meters (13–20 feet)
Weight1–2 tons (2,200–4,400 pounds)
LocationUSA (North America)

The Nanuqsaurus is also commonly referred to as the polar bear lizard. 

The dinosaur’s nickname is a reference to the location where it lived. 

Nanuqsaurus lived in Alaska, North America, which was frigidly cold during the Late Cretaceous Period, roughly 70 to 68 million years ago. 

Due to this peculiar habitat, experts think the Nanuqsaurus’ body was covered in fuzzy feathers. 

Although feathers were a common feature in the tyrannosaurs, the location of this dinosaur would have made insulating feathers particularly crucial for its survival.

Nanuqsaurus was about the size of the T. rex with an average length of 5 to 6 meters (16–20 feet).

1. Incisivosaurus

Incisivosaurus reconstruction by Tom Parker
Incisivosaurus reconstruction by Tom Parker – License
Name MeaningIncisor lizard
EraMesozoic – Early Cretaceous
ClassificationDinosauria, Saurischia, Theropoda
DietHerbivorous or Omnivorous
Height80 to 100 centimeters (2.6–3 feet)
Length6–7 meters  (20–22 feet)
Weight6 kg (18 lbs) 
LocationChina (Asia) 

The Incisivosaurus was a unique dinosaur, and that’s not just because it had feathers all over its body. 

The most fascinating thing about this theropod dinosaur was that it was a herbivore, a unique trait for a theropod dinosaur. 

This chicken-sized dinosaur had a unique dentition characterized by bigger teeth in the front of its mouth and smaller, grinding teeth at the back. 

The rodent-like front teeth of this dinosaur showed patterns typically found in plant-eating or omnivorous dinosaurs. 

At least two specimens of this dinosaur have been found with traces of preserved feathers. 

Incisivosaurus lived in China during the Early Cretaceous Period, about 126 million years ago. 


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