This Prehistoric Seabird Was Twice the Size of the Royal Albatross

by Owen James Burke


With a 20-24-foot wingspan, Pelagornis sandersi was the largest flying bird that ever lived. (Image: Liz Bradford)

The specimen was so large that it had to be dug out using a backhoe, and its “upper wing bone alone was longer than my arm,” says Daniel Ksepka, the man who gave the bird its scientific name.

First discovered in 1983 while constructing a new terminal the Charleston International Airport near Charleston, South Carolina, P. sandersi has just recently been named by Ksepka, who is now Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn.


Top, P. Sandersi, Left, California condor, Right, Royal albatross (Image: Liz Bradford)

Ksepka’s findings suggest that the bird was actually a pretty efficient flyer despite its size, though taking off may have been troublesome depending on conditions. Once airborne, however, he imagines that the bird could have glided for miles without flapping a wing, taking a dive now and then to feed on “soft-bodied prey like squid and eels.” This would have made it a perfect apex predator of the seas. Now the question scientists are facing is how and why the massive amphibian died off.

Ksepka’s full report was published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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