Diatryma, or Gastornis, was a flightless giant bird weighing about 350-380 pounds living in the Eocene Epoch, about 50 million years ago. Geologists found a fossilized footprint of the bird in the Chuckanut Formation (layers of sandstone, siltstone and coal) east of Bellingham. The fossil is the only known track of the giant bird. One of the researchers, George Mustoe said, “Discovery of this amazing foot track is the first undoubted evidence that these birds existed here.” The Diatryma track was actually first discovered by an amateur geologist, Keith Kemplin, who writes software for a living. He was surveying the area with the university geologists.
It had been assumed the bird was mainly a meat eater, but now researchers are reconsidering that assumption, since the species does not have large talons typical of carnivorous birds. Also the huge size is more typical of vegetarian flightless birds. Mustoe said, “They were most likely big vegetarians.”
Their habitat fifty million years ago was likely subtropical and swampy. Nearly full skeletons of the birds have been found in Europe, Mexico and Wyoming. The fossilized track is the only evidence discovered to date of the bird being on the West Coast. A rock slab weighing over one thousand pounds contains the extremely rare track. It was moved to Western Washington University for study.
Image Credit: Public Domain