A fossil of what is thought to be the earliest example of a passerine bird has been unearthed in Wyoming, USA.

The remains – recently described in a paper published in Current Biology – are believed to date back to the early Eocene, some 52 million years ago.

The find has been labelled Eofringillirostrum boudreaux and is the earliest example of a bird with a finch-like beak.

Oldest known passerine fossil (Lance Grande/Field Museum)

The fossil represents the oldest-known example of a passerine bird (Lance Grande/Field Museum)

Passerines account for approximately 65 per cent of bird species alive today, but scientists are unsure of their origins.

Dr Lance Grande, one of the researchers involved with the paper, said: "It's fascinating because passerines today make up most of all bird species, but they were extremely rare back then. This particular piece is exquisite; it's a complete skeleton with the feathers still attached, which is extremely rare in the fossil record of birds."

Dr Daniel Ksepka, the paper’s lead author, added: "These bills are particularly well-suited for consuming small, hard seeds. The earliest birds probably ate insects and fish, some may have been eating small lizards. Until this discovery, we did not know much about the ecology of early passerines. E boudreauxi gives us an important look at this."

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