Skip to main content

See also:

Biggest flying prehistoric bird discovered

Life reconstruction of Pelagornis sandersi.
Life reconstruction of Pelagornis sandersi.
Credit: Image courtesy of Liz Bradford.

A new contender for the largest bird that ever flew on Earth has been verified from fossil remains found in n 1983 near Charleston, South Carolina. Daniel T. Ksepka from North Carolina State University verified the new species identity and ability to fly. The discovery was reported in the July 7, 2014, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pelagornis sanders lived between 25 million years ago and 28 million years ago. This was a true bird with a wingspan between 20 feet and 24 feet. The bird postdates dinosaurs but predates modern humans. The bird is a member of a family of large seabirds.

The genus of the new species was identified by the bony tooth-like spikes in the upper and lower jaws. This find confirmed the animal to be a true bird. The bird had thin hollow bones, short legs, and a huge wingspan. The estimated weight of such a large bird has been interpreted as a prohibition to flight by some mathematical models.

Ksepka used a software package that is presently used to model flight based on weight, wingspan, and the length of wings to determine how the huge bird flew, took off, and landed. He found that Pelagornis sanders probably did not take off like most modern birds due to its weight and large size. The bird may have run into the wind to attain sufficient lift, could have run downhill into a head wind, or might have jumped off of heights into the wind. This study proves that the largest bird ever known could take off and fly.

Pelagornis sanders was capable of extreme long distance flight and flight at high altitudes once the bird was in flight. The bird probably fed on fish that inhabited the upper few feet of the ocean as the bird swooped down from the heights to feed. This is the largest true bird that ever flew on Earth that has been discovered to date. The species name was derived from the in honor of retired Charleston Museum curator Dr. Albert Sanders who led the excavation of the fossils in 1983.