Saturday, February 28, 2009

Giant Fossil Bird Discovered in Peru!

Folks who know me best are aware of my life-long fascination with paleontology. Far as I can tell this started when I was about five years old, after seeing the 1933 KING KONG for the first time on TV. That was also my first encounter with dinosaurs.

It took a couple more years before I came to learn that those prehistoric creatures had actually lived on Earth a long time ago. Obviously this was quite unlike the werewolves and walking mummies of the other monster movies I also watched, but never really ever believed in.

Discovering that dinosaurs were real was very much like finding out that there was such a thing as magic. The Thunder Lizards almost seemed too cool to be true. Suddenly, I wanted to learn everything about them that I could. We only had two books on dinosaurs in our school library, and I checked both of them out nearly every weekend from third to sixth grade. I was a kid obsessed.

Soon I started collecting fossils of my own, and rather successfully for a kid growing up in Kentucky. But that's a blog for another day.

Getting back to the star of this particular blog, I want to stress it is not a dinosaur, but is instead an ancient bird from the extinct Pelagornithidae family, recently found off the southern coast of Peru. These were seabirds, probably living in a similar fashion as our modern albatross. The pelagornithids are distinctive for two peculiar characteristics: a massive wing-span of almost twenty feet (6m!), and a large bill with tooth-like serrations in the jaws that would have griped onto their prey. The bird fossils were discovered in marine sediments that also contained the remains of prehistoric whales, sharks, and turtles. Its fragile skull is complete, as is its brain case, making this specimen especially rare.

Paleontology doesn't get much cooler than this.