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Many of these early avialans shared unusual anatomical features that may be ancestral to modern birds, but were later lost during bird evolution.

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These features include enlarged claws on the second toe which may have been held clear of the ground in life, and long feathers or "hind wings" covering the hind limbs and feet, which may have been used in aerial maneuvering.
The earliest known avialan fossils come from the Tiaojishan Formation of China, which has been dated to the late Jurassic period (Oxfordian stage), about 160 million years ago. The avialan species from this time period include Anchiornis huxleyi, Xiaotingia zhengi, and Aurornis xui.[11] The well-known early avialan, Archaeopteryx, dates from slightly later Jurassic rocks (about 155 million years old) from Germany.

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