Giant Bird Wandered the Arctic 53 Million Years Ago Say Scientists

Posted on February 12, 2016

Gastornis on Ellesmere Island

Scientists say they have confirmed that there was a giant flightless bird species that wandered the Arctic about 53 million years ago. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the University of Colorado Boulder discovered fossil evidence from the Arctic of a massive bird known as Gastornis.

Gastornis was six feet tall and weighed several hundred pounds. Despite its menacing size and huge beak it is believed to have eaten only nuts, seeds and hard fruit. It would have used its beak to tear at foliage. The fossil was found on Ellesmere Island above the Arctic Circle. The fossil was discovered in the 1970s but this is the first time it has been closely examined and described.

Ellesmere Island is one of the coldest, driest environments on Earth today. However, 53 million years ago researchers say the environment was similar to the cypress swamps in the southeast today. It was also home to turtles, alligators, primates and large hippo-like and rhino-like mammals.

A research paper on Gastornis was published here in the journal, Scientific Reports. The research paper also describes another bird unique to the Ellesmere named Presbyornis. It was similar to a duck or goose but had long, flamingo-like legs.

Image: Illustration by Marlin Peterson