Seven Foot ‘Vegetarian’ Bird Lived Near Seattle

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


Marianne Good
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for sharing interesting facts.

Bonnie M.
Bonnie M5 years ago

Amazing what geology, archeology and technology can discover about the past! Thank you.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

dawn w.
Dawn W6 years ago

Was it yellow? The original Big Bird! (You know someone had to say it.)

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Wow how interesting and unusual. Thanks.

Francisco W.
Francisco W6 years ago


Niko Odrzut
Niko Odrzut7 years ago

Nice! A 7-foot-tall bird must've been an awe-inspiring sight but running into one nowadays might be a bit problematic...

Ann Eastman
Ann Eastman7 years ago

An absorbing read- thanks for the article.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W7 years ago


Philippa P.
Philippa P7 years ago

Great story. Wonderful information. The vegetarian bird got it right.