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Megafauna Monday: Dromornis stirtoni

By Pat, 14 October 2013 News

Fossil cast of a Dromornis stirtoni skeleton.

Dromornis stirtoni were the largest birds ever known to have lived.
Image: Kevmin/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

Welcome to Megafauna Monday, where we help you chase away the post-weekend blues by showcasing some of the mighty beasts that once roamed the planet. Today it’s about the biggest bird of them all!

 

Fast facts

Scientific name: Dromornis stirtoni

Lived: about 15 million years ago. Fossils of these big birds have only been found in the Northern Territory.

Ate: Some paleontologists think the large beak means Dromornis stirtoni ate meat. However, others think they ate plants. They may have eaten both.

Claim to fame: the largest birds ever known to have lived. They grew up to three metres tall and weighed more than 500 kilograms!

Modern day equivalent: Dromornis stirtoni were probably related to modern day geese.

More information

While the largest mammals to live in Australia evolved relatively recently (just over a million years ago), the birds got a bit of a head start. The largest bird ever known to have lived (not just in Australia, but the world) was Dromornis stirtoni. Growing up to three metres tall and weighing in at more than 500 kilograms, this bird roamed the subtropical open woodlands in what is now the Northern Territory around 15 million years ago.

Despite the existence of complete skeletons, there is still some debate surrounding Dromornis stirtoni. When the fossils were first discovered, their large size led paleontologists to think they were related to other big Australian birds such as emus and cassowaries. However, analysis of their anatomy suggests they are actually more closely related to modern day geese.

Another thing that isn’t clear is what Dromornis stirtoni ate. It had a very large, powerful beak. This, combined with its enormous size, has led some paleontologists to conclude it was carnivorous. Other paleontologists point out the beak isn’t hooked, like other carnivorous birds, and that it may have eaten plants. It is possible it was an omnivore, meaning it ate a combination of plants and meat.

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