October 26, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Big Bad Bird: Ten-Foot “Terror Bird” Found

What would a “terror bird” look like?  Imagine a ten-footer, able to disembowel you with a single kick and crush your skull in its jaws.  That’s what scientists from the Dinosaur Institute of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History described in Nature1 after finding the largest-ever skull of a flightless phorusrhacid (‘terror bird’) in Argentina.  While other phorusrhacids stood 2-3 feet tall, the skull of this one was as big as that of a horse, implying it stood 10 feet tall.  It had a sharp, eagle-like beak and was probably agile and swift.
    Contrary to earlier opinion, taller does not mean fatter and slower, the researchers surmised.  In a classic example of stuffy scientific jargon, they wrote, “We conclude that reconstructions of the skull of gigantic phorusrhacids on the basis of their smaller relatives are unwarranted, and that the long-established correlation between their corpulence and reduced cursorial agility needs to be re-evaluated.”
    See also the National Geographic entry.  Despite saying this discovery was just in time for Halloween, Sean Markey wrote that “much about terror bird behavior remains unknown.”  They are presumed to have been South America’s top predators after dinosaurs went extinct.


1Luis M. Chiappe and Sara Bertelli, “Palaeontology: Skull morphology of giant terror birds,” Nature 443, 929(26 October 2006) | doi:10.1038/443929.

You can’t call it a terror bird without being there to watch it.  Inferences from living ostriches and rheas are probably warranted, but maybe these were big, beautiful, stupid and sweet.  Maybe they would have made good pets.  Don’t put it together with the cat, though.  (Imagine it having a chirp like Here, kitty kitty kitty.)  Best put the bird in the yard and the cat in the cage.

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Categories: Birds, Fossils

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