Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

World's biggest-ever flying bird discovered: Twice as big as the royal albatross

Date:
July 7, 2014
Source:
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Summary:
Scientists have identified the fossilized remains of an extinct giant bird that could be the biggest flying bird ever found. With an estimated 20- to 24-foot wingspan, the creature surpassed the previous record holder -- an extinct bird named Argentavis magnificens -- and was twice as big as the royal albatross, the largest flying bird today. Computer simulations show that the bird's long slender wings helped it stay aloft despite its enormous size.

This is a reconstruction of the world's largest-ever flying bird, Pelagornis sandersi, identified by Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn. Reconstruction art is by Liz Bradford.
Credit: Liz Bradford

Scientists have identified the fossilized remains of an extinct giant bird that could be the biggest flying bird ever found. With an estimated 20-24-foot wingspan, the creature surpassed size estimates based on wing bones from the previous record holder -- a long-extinct bird named Argentavis magnificens -- and was twice as big as the Royal Albatross, the largest flying bird today. Scheduled to appear online the week of July 7, 2014, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the findings show that the creature was an extremely efficient glider, with long slender wings that helped it stay aloft despite its enormous size.

The new fossil was first unearthed in 1983 near Charleston, South Carolina, when construction workers began excavations for a new terminal at the Charleston International Airport. The specimen was so big they had to dig it out with a backhoe. "The upper wing bone alone was longer than my arm," said author Dan Ksepka of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Now in the collections at the Charleston Museum, the strikingly well-preserved specimen consisted of multiple wing and leg bones and a complete skull. Its sheer size and telltale beak allowed Ksepka to identify the find as a previously unknown species of pelagornithid, an extinct group of giant seabirds known for bony tooth-like spikes that lined their upper and lower jaws. Named 'Pelagornis sandersi' in honor of retired Charleston Museum curator Albert Sanders, who led the fossil's excavation, the bird lived 25 to 28 million years ago -- after the dinosaurs died out but long before the first humans arrived in the area.

Researchers have no doubt that P. sandersi flew. It's paper-thin hollow bones, stumpy legs and giant wings would have made it at home in the air but awkward on land. But because it exceeded what some mathematical models say is the maximum body size possible for flying birds, what was less clear was how it managed to take off and stay aloft despite its massive size.

To find out, Ksepka fed the fossil data into a computer program designed to predict flight performance given various estimates of mass, wingspan and wing shape. P. sandersi was probably too big to take off simply by flapping its wings and launching itself into the air from a standstill, analyses show. Like Argentavis, whose flight was described by a computer simulation study in 2007, P. sandersi may have gotten off the ground by running downhill into a headwind or taking advantage of air gusts to get aloft, much like a hang glider.

Once it was airborne, Ksepka's simulations suggest that the bird's long, slender wings made it an incredibly efficient glider. By riding on air currents that rise up from the ocean's surface, P. sandersi was able to soar for miles over the open ocean without flapping its wings, occasionally swooping down to the water to feed on soft-bodied prey like squid and eels.

"That's important in the ocean, where food is patchy," said Ksepka, who is now Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich Connecticut.

Researchers hope the find will help shed light on why the family of birds that P. sandersi belonged to eventually died out, and add to our understanding of how the giants of the skies managed to fly.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel T. Ksepka. Flight performance of the largest volant bird. PNAS, July 7, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320297111

Cite This Page:

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "World's biggest-ever flying bird discovered: Twice as big as the royal albatross." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140707152414.htm>.
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). (2014, July 7). World's biggest-ever flying bird discovered: Twice as big as the royal albatross. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140707152414.htm
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "World's biggest-ever flying bird discovered: Twice as big as the royal albatross." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140707152414.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 21, 2014) Police in Gary, Indiana are using cadaver dogs to search for more victims after a suspected serial killer confessed to killing at least seven women. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) Visitors to Belgrade zoo meet a pair of three-week-old lion cubs for the first time. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins