Feeds

'BIGGEST BIRD EVER': 21-foot ripsaw-beaked flying HORROR

Fossil avian cruised above sea like toothy ekranoplan

Seven Steps to Software Security

Pic Boffins have identified the fossil remnants of a vast creature that had a jagged-edged ripper beak, and appears to have had the largest wingspan of any bird ever.

Artist's impression of world's largest flying bird, Pelagornis sandersi

Artist's impression of world's largest flying bird, Pelagornis sandersi. Credit: Liz Bradford

The massive extinct avian would have had a wingspan of 20 to 24 feet (6m to 7m), more than twice as wide as that of the Royal Albatross, the largest living flying bird.

Although the cumbersome appendages put the species above some theoretical upper limits for powered flight in animals, the fossil proves that Pelagornis sandersi was able to put its enormous wings to good use.

Not only is the species extinct, but its entire clade, Pelagornithidae, was last seen in prehistoric times.

Using the relationship between bone lengths and feather lengths in living birds, the researchers, led by Dr Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, believe that the ancient avian was an expert glider.

"Pelagornis sandersi could have travelled for extreme distances while crossing ocean waters in search of prey," said Ksepka.

Its wings were long and slender, allowing it to stay aloft despite its enormous size. The bird also had the paper-thin hollow bones of a flying bird and its stumpy legs and gargantuan wings would have made it ungainly on land.

The most puzzling question was how the creature actually took off. It was likely to be too big to flap its wings and take off from a standstill, but computer models show that it may have gotten off the ground by running downhill into a headwind or using air gusts to launch, much like a hang glider.

Once in the air, P. sandersi would have used the air currents rising from the ocean to cruise above the waves for miles without flapping its wings, occasionally swooping down for soft-bodied prey like squid and eels. In this mode of flight it would have resembled the crazy Cold War era Soviet Ekranoplan craft, likewise able to skim the ocean for hundreds of miles.

The fossil was located by Charleston Museum volunteer James Malcolm in 1983, during excavations for a new terminal at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina. Bird remains are relatively rare because their bones are paper-thin, but this fossil was very well-preserved.

The bird’s toothy grin allowed the boffins to figure out that it was part of the Pelagornithidae clade – giant seabirds with bony tooth-like spikes in the jaw.

"Pelagornithids were like creatures out of a fantasy novel - there is simply nothing like them around today," said Ksepka.

The huge seabirds were found all over the world for tens of millions of years, but vanished during the Pliocene era three million years ago in mysterious circumstances. Researchers hope that this fossil could still help them understand why these birds eventually died out.

The full study, “Flight performance of the largest volant bird”, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.