Amateur paleontologists in Chile found a very cool fossil of an approximately seven million year old bird. On the basis of the skeleton, they cautiously estimate that the wingspan of the feathered bird was about six meters: the largest span so far found in a primeval bird.
About 70% of the bird is found in sandstone deposits in northern Chile. The new species is now called Pelagornis chilensis and falls under the Pelagornithidae: birds with tooth-like protrusions on their beaks. They originated around 60 million years ago, were found all over the world and died out a few million years ago. Several Pelagornithidae developed into giants with a wingspan of more than four meters and were the largest flying birds ever.
Beak with teeth
Albatrosses and pelicans were previously considered to be the closest relatives of the Pelagornis, but now it is more likely to cease to be one. The Pelagornithidae have a kind of pointed teeth on their beak. They are not real teeth, but outgrowths of the jaw bone. The scientists suspect that the birds had these pseudo teeth to get a better grip on fish and other animals they caught on the open sea.
According to the estimates, the birds weighed only 16 to 29 kilos, which is surprisingly little. The weight, however, corresponds fairly well with the heaviest flying birds that we know today, such as mute swan males, which can weigh 20 kilos. Without feathers, the wingspan of the primeval birds was 5.25 meters, and that is the largest wingspan that is registered with certainty in a bird.
According to estimates made earlier, another primordial bird, Argentavis magnificens, had a wingspan between 5.70 and 8.30 meters, but there is no certainty about that, because no well-preserved fossils of this vulture-like bird have been found.
Twice as large as giant albatross
The seven million year old prehistoric seabird had an impressive size. With its wingspan of almost six meters, it was twice as large as the current giant albatross.