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Extinct bird had world's longest wingspan

Wingspan is measured from wingtip to wingtip.
Wingspan is measured from wingtip to wingtip.
Yogendra Joshi

A new bird species has been discovered that puts other fliers to shame – the extinct species, Pelagornis sandersi, had a wingspan that reached 24 feet, twice as long as the longest wingspan of today's living birds.

According to WNPR News, the bird was only recently verified and identified by Daniel Ksepka, curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., but the fossils Ksepka used for his identification were first unearthed in the 1980s during renovations to the Charleston Airport. At that time, the wing bone fossils – found by Al Sanders, then-curator of the Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in the United States – were cleaned and filed away, but further investigation was not completed. In 2010, Ksepka found the fossils in the museum's storage collection and noted their unusual size, indicating a wingspan much larger than contemporary birds.

Through computer modeling and data analysis of the wing bone measurements, Ksepka concluded that this bird species had a wingspan up to 24 feet long, and while it may not have been a powerful flier, it would have been a superb and efficient glider. This is similar to today's albatrosses and vultures, but ironically, the closest modern relatives of Pelagornis sandersi are likely ducks and chickens.

Ksepka's findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A bird's wingspan is measured from tip to tip when the wings are spread as far as they can naturally be extended, with the calculation taken from the tips of the bird's primary feathers. Today, birds with the longest wingspans include storks, vultures, condors, swans, and pelicans, but the longest wingspan honors belong to the wandering albatross with a 12-13 foot wingspan. In contrast, the bird with the smallest wingspan is also the tiniest bird in the world, the miniscule bee hummingbird, whose wings only stretch 1.2-1.3 inches in length. Roughly 110 bee hummingbirds could be lined up along the wingspan of a wandering albatross, and more than 221 would be needed to measure the wingspan of Pelagornis sandersi!