Sinornithosaurus was discovered by Xu Xing, Wang Xiaolin and Wu Xiaochun of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of Beijing. An almost-complete fossil with feather impressions, was recovered from Liaoning Province, China, in the Yixian Formation; the same incredibly rich location where four dinosaurs with feathers were discovered previously, Protarchaeopteryx, Sinosauropteryx, Caudipteryx, and Beipiaosaurus. The holotype specimen is IVPP V12811, in the collection of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.
The NGMC 91 specimen is in the collection of the National Geological Museum of China. It was collected in Fanzhangzi quarry, near Lingyuan City, Liaoning Province. This location is part of the Dawangzhangzi fossil beds, which have been dated to about 122 million years ago, during the early Aptian age. A specimen of the fish Lycoptera is also preserved near the foot.