Extinct Bird Had Wingspan of Over 20 Feet

Posted on July 8, 2014

Pelagornis sandersi

Scientists have named an extinct bird that had an enormous wingspan of 20 to 24 feet (6.1 to 7.4 meters). This is twice the wingspan of the living Royal Albatross. The bird, Pelagornis sandersi, lived 25 to 28 million years ago. A comparison of the wingspan of P. sandersi to the wingspans of the California condor (left) and albatross (right) is pictured below.

Comparison of P. Sandersi wingspan to California condor and albatross


A fossil of the bird was unearthed in 1983 in South Carolina. It is a previously unknown pelagornithid. Pelagornithid is a family of extinct giant seabirds known for having bony toothlike spikes that lined their jaws.

Researchers do not believe the bird could have taken off from a standstill using its wings alone. It may have had to run downhill into a headwind to take off. Once airborne it would have been easy for P. sandersi to glide on its enormous wings. The bird also had light, hollow bones designed for flight. Scientists say the bird would have been able to glide for long distances without flapping its wings.

A research paper on P. sandersi is published here in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Art by Liz Bradford