Badass Ancient Animals: Nr. 8 Picture

Thanks to numerous appearances in television, Terror Birds have become quite famous these days. They even made it into a feature film – Roland Emmerich´s “10.000 BC”. While they were really well-animated and frightening in that movie, they were also among its many flaws – Terror Birds went extinct one or two million years earlier and only lived in the Americas, however the film seems to take place in Eurasia and Africa. The term “Terror Bird” is actually a nickname for relatives of the modern seriema called Phorusrhacids, but people also use it for other flightless birds like the much earlier Gastornis (in old books it´s called Diatryma). While genetically different, what these birds have in common were small wings, powerful legs and a massive beak. And some of them were larger than a man. However, and this is what not many people know – they were NOT the largest birds of all time.
With Terror Birds being so famous, I didn´t want to include a Phorusrhacid and instead feature the largest bird in existence, an animal of a less famous group called Dromornithidae. These avian dinosaurs are only known from Australia and evolved from… geese and ducks. Because of their origins they have much more colorful names than the American “Terror Birds” – “Mihirungs” or “Thunder Birds” after Australian mythology and “Demon Ducks of Doom”. The largest of these – and indeed the largest bird in existence – was Dromornis stirtoni, a 3 meter tall avian weighing half a ton. But this polar bear sized animal wasn´t necessarily as terrifying as a polar bear. Unlike Terror Birds the massive beak of Dromornis wasn´t hooked, showing it was not carnivorous (at least not exclusively). But even if it just munched trees and tough plants – it would be deadly for anyone approaching it (remember hippos, guys!). Luckily for humans this Thunder Bird died out several million years before the ancestors of the Aborigines arrived on the continent. But one of its smaller relatives, Genyornis newtoni, may have lived long enough to meet humans, as a 40,000 years old painting shows. So unlike the ahistorical Terror Birds of “10.000 BC” these giant birds were actually seen in flesh by humans. The Aborigines should still count themselves lucky for never meeting the giant of the giants, the thundering Dromornis stirtoni itself.
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