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Exclusive video clip features birds’ evolution from dinosaurs

A CGI rendition of Archaeopteryx from the film “When Whales Walked.”

A new two-hour PBS and Smithsonian Channel film, When Whales Walked: Journeys in Deep Time, features a segment about birds’ evolution from dinosaurs and how scientists in the 1960s pieced together the story with the discovery of an 11-foot-long predatory dinosaur that lived about 110 million years ago.

The film also shows an incredible CGI-created look at Archaeopteryx, the so-called “first bird.”

PBS and the Smithsonian Channel have given BirdWatching an exclusive clip from the film pertaining to bird evolution:

In the clip, Julia Clarke, a paleontologist from the University of Texas at Austin, discusses the fact that more than half of the world’s 10,000 living bird species come from one lineage — passerines. She also talks about Archaeopteryx, noting that it “might just look like roadkill or something that hit your window.” But of course, it’s nothing of the sort. Clarke goes on to say that the fossil is “an icon of evolution. It was one of the first key and totally unavoidable pieces of evidence consistent with evolution.”

Later in the clip, paleontologist Jacques Gauthier, the curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, describes the significance of Deinonychus antirrhopus, a predatory dinosaur that is a clear link in the evolutionary chain of dinosaurs to birds.

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As the name of the documentary suggests, When Whales Walked is not focused entirely on birds. It takes viewers from Abu Dhabi to Argentina, Kenya to China, as top scientists investigate clues from the fossil record and use 21st-century technology to unlock the evolutionary secrets of crocodiles, birds, whales, and elephants. Using innovative storytelling techniques, 3D graphics, and CGI to bring ancient animales to life, the film offers surprising insights into the evolution of these magnificent animals, exploding myths about the path these species took over millions of years. Narrated by actor Lee Pace (Guardians of the GalaxyThe Hobbit), the film debuts at 9 pm ET on Wednesday, June 19, on PBS and the Smithsonian Channel and will also be available for simultaneous streaming on

“When we marvel at the wonders of the natural world, like an elephant’s trunk or the size of a blue whale, we rarely ask, ‘Where did that come from?’ It turns out, scientists are finding some truly extraordinary answers,” says Charles Poe, a senior vice president at the Smithsonian Channel. “This film will introduce viewers to the surprising ancestors of animals we know and love. We’re very excited to be launching our first partnership with PBS to take viewers on an utterly unique journey to the deep past.”

The film’s release coincides with a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and an educational outreach program shared with affiliated science museums around the country. Three museums and their partner organizations will host Family Fossil Festivals, which feature the film, a virtual reality game, and standards-based educational activities. Additionally, educational outreach professionals at PBS stations nationwide will be provided access to activities on, as well as videos on PBS Learning Media, and share them in their own community-based STEM initiatives.

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