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Non-Terror Bird

September 17, 2013

Giant flightless birds with enormous beaks once roamed the earth. Did they feast upon flesh, or gobble up plants?



A not-so-terrible bird. I’m Bob Hirshon, and this is Science Update.

Gastornis skull. (Mitternacht90/Wikipedia)

50 million years ago, a flightless bird as tall as a person – with a beak the size of a human head – roamed North America and Europe. Scientists once thought that the bird, called Gastornis, was a fearsome, meat-eating predator. But a chemical analysis of its bones has revealed that these scary-looking animals weren’t so terrible after all. University of Bonn geochemist Thomas Tuetken led the study.

THOMAS TUETKEN (University of Bonn):

Analyzing calcium isotopes from these fossil bones of this giant bird, in comparison to modern plant and meat eating animals, we come to the conclusion that this is probably not a meat eating giant bird, but more likely was using this giant massive beak to ingest plant matter and not meat.


But he says Gastornis probably didn’t have many predators either. That’s because most meat-eating mammals at the time were too small to pose much of a threat. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.