Gerald Mayr of the natural history museum Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg in Frankfurt analyzed two bird skeletons found in Frauenweiler, a village in southern Germany. The four-centimeter-long remains reveal long beaks about 2.5 times larger than their skulls, and shoulder joints and upper arm bones that allowed the animals to hover. "The tip of the wing makes a figure eight," Mayr explains. "This is the oldest convincing record of modern-type hummingbirds." Indeed, the next oldest fossils of modern hummingbirds, discovered in South America, date to just one million years ago.
The fossils, attributed to the new species Eurotrochilus inexpectus, suggest that hummingbirds once colonized the Old World, but its unclear what caused their demise. Mayr notes that the birds probably evolved alongside beak-friendly plant species. Once the birds disappeared, insects such as long-tongued bees may have stepped in and assumed the pollinating duties, he posits.