This cryptozoology tale about a monster of a bird is actually true. A gigantic flying sea bird fossil was found near Charleston, SC and recently reported upon. Could this fossilized giant bird be a relative of some of the giant raptors being seen around the US in recent years? CryptoVille investigates. (Artwork right by Liz Bradford.)
In 1983 the Charleston International Airport needed another terminal, so workers began to dig the area in preparation. They found something related to aviation, all right, but it wasn’t what anyone was expecting.
Scientists identified the gigantic fossil found by workers as that of an extinct sea bird, a new species which they named Pelagornis sandersi. Dr. Daniel Ksepka who is now the Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, has published his paper this month detailing his research on this flying phenomenon. At the time the fossil was found, he was with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC.
The fossil is currently housed at the Charleston Museum (below left).
According to the research, P. sandersi lived 25-28 million years ago, after the dinosaurs and before humans inhabited the Earth. According to Dr. Ksepka, “The upper wing bone alone was longer than my arm.”
The rest of its bones were “paper-thin” and hollow. The legs were described as “stumpy” but the wings, they were huge. The wings would have spanned 20-24 feet in an adult. Dan said they had so many bones (multiple wing and leg bones as well as the complete skull) that it made identifying the animal easy. It was a formerly unknown species of pelagornithid all of whom had long beaks filled with “bony tooth-like spikes” on both sets of jaws.
The name P. sandersi is in honor of the original scientist who dug up the fossil, Albert Sanders who was the former curator at the Charleston Museum.
P. sandersi dethrones Argentavis magnificens as the largest bird ever recorded by science to date. However my research into the A. magnificens wingspan reported that its wingspan could have reached 23-25 feet (7 m) long which would make it just as big, if not a bit larger than P. sandersi. Well, I guess the scientists are going on their best estimates given the fossils they’re working with. So we’ll leave it at that. It’s not much of a difference anyway.
The largest living bird in today’s world is the Wandering Albatross. That beast’s wingspan has been recorded between 8 ft 3 in to 11 ft 6 in wide (2.51 – 3.5 m). They weigh between 13-28 pounds (5.9- 12.7 kg). (Photo right.) These birds spend most of their lives in flight landing only to eat and reproduce. I wonder if that wasn’t true for this new species, too, P. sandersi.
Mechanics of Flight
P. sandersi exceeds the predictions of mathematical models for a bird’s ability to fly. In other words, according to our best mathematical models, it shouldn’t be able to fly. So Dan had to tackle that problem by working with these models and based on his research, he estimates that P. sandersi had to run down a hill to generate the lift to take off or catch a good head wind. I remember from my research into A. magnificens, those scientists said much the same thing. The good news for P. sandersi is that once it was aloft, its huge wings would be more than capable of riding the air currents and keeping the bird in flight for a very long time.
Scientists believe the long periods of time in flight would enable the bird to scour the ocean surface in search of prey such as squid and eels. Dan adds, “That’s important in the ocean, where food is patchy.” Picture below right shows size of a Wandering Albatross compared to man.
Many friends of CryptoVille have reported seeing huge birds flying through the skies of mostly middle America. No one knows what they are. Research into that phenomena is really tough because it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of scale (how big the bird is) against an open sky. So in some cases, they may be seeing a bird we know about that has just flown off course into new territory.
Most of the argument against large birds living today is that more people would have seen them, and there is no scientific record of them. I suspect more people see them than anyone would have guessed but to whom do they report the sightings? Who is keeping track of these sightings? There is no official channel for this. I may have to start one.
As for the scientific record, over 20,000 species of animals are being discovered every year, some of them quite big (remember the 4,000 pound Javan rhino “discovered in 1998”?!). So I’m very open to the possibility that there may be more huge birds soaring through our skies, hidden in plain sight.
Let’s keep the search going! Keep your cameras handy.
Til the next time!