Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s….pelagornis sandersi.
For those who missed the big science news of the week, researchers declared they found fossils from the largest flying bird ever discovered. This bad boy, known to scientists as pelagornis sandersi, had a wingspan of up to 24 feet, about twice as big as today’s largest flying bird, the Royal Albatross. Not to worry, he won’t be landing on your roof or picking up your puppy for a quick meal. He roamed the skies about 25 million to 28 million years ago.
According to the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina, who supported the study, P. sandersi’s long, slender wings and paper-thin hollow bones allowed him to sail the skies for great distances (several miles) with nary a wing flap. Of course, getting off the ground must have looked like man’s early attempts at winged flight. Scientists believe the big guy weighed as much as 88 pounds and would have needed a running start, downhill and with a good headwind to go airborne.
P. sandersi’s fossils were initially dug up about 31 years ago while preparing the foundation for a new terminal at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina. What they found was a complete skull, wing and leg bones, which had to be unearthed using a backhoe. But just this week, scientists released their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The remains of the P. sandersi (named after Charleston Museum curator Albert Sanders) can be viewed in the Charleston Museum.
Illustration: Liz Bradford