There is significant evidence that birds emerged within theropod dinosaurs, specifically, that birds are members of Maniraptora, a group of theropods which includes dromaeosaurs and oviraptorids, among others.3 As more non-avian theropods that are closely related to birds are discovered, the formerly clear distinction between non-birds and birds becomes less so. This was noted already in the 19th century, with Thomas Huxley writing:
We have had to stretch the definition of the class of birds so as to include birds with teeth and birds with paw-like fore limbs and long tails. There is no evidence that Compsognathus possessed feathers; but, if it did, it would be hard indeed to say whether it should be called a reptilian bird or an avian reptile.
Discoveries in northeast China (Liaoning Province) demonstrate that many small theropod dinosaurs did indeed have feathers, among them the compsognathid Sinosauropteryx and the microraptorian dromaeosaurid Sinornithosaurus. This has contributed to this ambiguity of where to draw the line between birds and reptiles. Cryptovolans, a dromaeosaurid found in 2002 (which may be a junior synonym of Microraptor) was capable of powered flight, possessed a sternal keel and had ribs with uncinate processes. Cryptovolans seems to make a better “bird” than Archaeopteryx which lacks some of these modern bird features. Because of this, some paleontologists have suggested that dromaeosaurs are actually basal birds whose larger members are secondarily flightless, i.e. that dromaeosaurs evolved from birds and not the other way around. Evidence for this theory is currently inconclusive, but digs continue to unearth fossils (especially in China) of feathered dromaeosaurs. At any rate, it is fairly certain that flight utilizing feathered wings existed in the mid-Jurassic theropods. The Cretaceous unenlagiine Rahonavis also possesses features suggesting it was at least partially capable of powered flight. Read more