Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Huge Flying Bird of North America

"Giant Fossil Bird Found in Murrieta"
San Bernardino County Museum (undated)

"A partial humerus (wing bone) of an extinct Incredible Teratorn, the largest bird of flight ever identified from North America, has been discovered by San Bernardino County Museum paleontologists from two million-year-old deposits near Murrieta, Riverside County, California. The find has resulted in a new name for the extinct avian giant: Aiolornis incredibilis, 'the incredible bird god of the winds.'

"The discovery was made by Quintin Lake, senior field paleontologist for the San Bernardino County Museum...."

"...Teratorns were the largest flying birds known. Teratorns living in South America during the Miocene Epoch, about 5 to 8 million years ago, reached a wingspan of 6 to 8 meters (up to 24 feet). The fossil from Murrieta suggests a wingspan of up to 5.5 meters (18 feet). A few scattered and fragmentary fossils of the Incredible Teratorn have also been discovered in Nevada and in the Anza-Borrego Desert in San Diego County. The Murrieta specimen is the most anatomically distinctive of these fossils, and analysis of this bone prompted a new name for the extinct predator.

" 'Our colleague, Dr. Campbell, determined that, although teratorns could fly, they were probably active predators who stalked their prey on the ground,' explained [San Bernardino County Museum's Curator of Paleontology] Scott. 'Think of Aiolornis as a scaled-down T. rex with feathers.'..."

And flight capability.

I remember seeing a nature documentary that featured a young eagle: developmentally, the bird was the equivalent of a teenager, as I recall.

One vignette showed the majestic young bald eagle soaring among the clouds; spotting a rabbit; diving like a bolt from above; and missing the rabbit: which ran away. Then, the young eagle started running after the rabbit. Making pretty good time, too: but hardly in the same class as an adrenalin-charged rabbit.

Bald Eagles are pretty big birds: wingspan of maybe eight to 10 feet, and a body roughly three feet long.

The Teratorn this article describes had a wingspan of about 18 feet. About twice that of a bald eagle. Body length, assuming about the same proportions, would be around six feet - and the bird would probably weigh around 80 pounds.1 That's around the weight of a wolf.

I realize that conservationists seem to want everything to stay just the way it was, somewhere between 1800 and 2000, but on the whole I'm rather glad that change happens on Earth.

Never mind that "scaled-down T. rex with feathers" comparison.

Think about going for a hike - and keeping an eye out for flying wolves.
1 Eagle and wolf specs from "Bald Eagle," "Wolf," Wikipedia - I know, but these cite references

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