The ancient bird, dubbed Pelagornis sandersi, belonged to a family of now-extinct “toothed” birds.
The discovery also shows that, for some ancient flying birds, bigger may have been better.
Described for the first time in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the fossil bones of the big bird were uncovered just outside an airport in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1983.
“A giant bird lands at an airport 25 million years too soonâ€”it’s kind of amusing,” says study author Daniel Ksepka of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “Maybe he should have just waited and landed on the new runway.”
Birds of a Feather
The wingspan of Pelagornis sandersi dwarfs that of today’s biggest flier, the royal albatross, whose span measures a “mere” 11.5 feet (3.5 meters). And it rivals that of the largest flying bird on record: Argentavis magnificensâ€”a South American condor with a 23-foot (7-meter) wingspan that glided among the mountaintops of the Andes six million years ago.
“Pelagornis was certainly much lighter and a better ‘flier'” than the vanished giant condor, says paleontologist Antoine Louchart of France’s Institute of Functional Genomics in Lyon, who was not involved with the study.