In a paper in the journalNature, they said they found the well-preserved fossil of theAnchiornis huxleyi, which roamed the earth some 160 million years ago, in a geological formation in China's north-eastern Liaoning province.
About the size of a chicken, the fossil has a total body length of less than 50cm and a skull about 6cm long, lead researcherXing Xuat the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing said.
"This finding suggests that birds are likely to be descended from a kind of small-sized four-winged dinosaur about 160 million years ago," Mr Xu said.
"It is a link between more typical theropods (dinosaurs which moved around with two rear limbs) and birds. It lived around a time period ... that we expected for birds' ancestor."
The researchers said long feathers covered the creature's arms, tail and feet, suggesting that a four-winged stage "may have existed in the transition to birds".
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