Biggest-Ever Flying Bird Unearthed at Airport

Pelagornis had wingspan up to 24 feet
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2014 12:34 AM CDT
Biggest-Ever Flying Bird Unearthed at Airport
Daniel Ksepka, curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., studies the skull of Pelagornis sandersi, identified by Ksepka as the largest-ever flying bird.    (AP Photo/Courtesy Daniel Ksepka via Bruce Museum)

The biggest flying bird ever discovered had a wingspan bigger than that of some small planes—and appropriately enough, its fossil was found at an airport. The bird, named Pelagornis sandersi, lived around 25 million years ago and had a wingspan of up to 24 feet across, around twice that of the wandering albatross, the biggest flying bird around today. Its bones were unearthed decades ago by construction workers at Charleston International Airport, but they ended up hidden in a drawer in a museum and their significance was not realized until recently, reports the Los Angeles Times.

With its huge wings and mouth full of bony spikes, "this was a remarkable fossil, almost like something out of Game of Thrones," Daniel Ksepka, the paleontologist who identified the species, tells the Guardian. The huge bird could glide for long distances as it searched the oceans for food, says Ksepka, whose find is a lot bigger than what researchers had previously believed to be the upper limit possible for birds capable of flight, Slate notes. But those calculations are based on the energy required for a bird to flap its wings, and Ksepka believes Pelagornis used different strategies. "They could harvest energy from the environment, like taking advantage of wind gusts," says the paleontologist, who plans more research to discover "how they launched and landed, and how maneuverable they were." (In another recent find, a stegomastodon skull was unearthed in New Mexico last month—by a bachelor party.)

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