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Paleontologists reconstruct world's largest bird

Dromornis stirtoni

Giant ancestor of ostrich and emu

August 14, 1997
Web posted at: 12:12 a.m. EDT (0412 GMT)

ALICE SPRINGS, Australia (CNN) -- A team of paleontologists has spent five years digging giant bones out of the sizzling Australian desert before reconstructing what is believed to be the biggest bird the world has ever seen.

It is called Dromornis stirtoni, which sounds like the name of an Italian soccer club, but scientists believe it is the giant ancestor of the ostrich and the emu.

As befits a bird 8 or 9 feet tall (3 meters) some of its bones are enormous. A toe bone is 10 times the size of a human finger. The jawbone is big enough to play tennis with. Slip a couple of lead plates on each end of the shin bone and a man could do bench presses with it.

shin bone

Scientists are not agreed whether dinosaurs were birds or not, and Dromornis won't solve the debate. What is beyond dispute is that they were big and powerful and, as Dr. Peter Murray puts it, "very successful and ancient living birds".

Certain varieties of the Dromornis stirtoni lived up to about 50,000 years ago, Murray said. The modern day emu, which wandered the Australian outback when it was wetter and more heavily wooded than it is today, appears to be a scaled-down version of the giant Dromornis.

Murray said Dromornis "may have simply been replaced by successively smaller species, because they persist right up through the late tertiary period."

Dr. Peter Murray shows us the mammoth fossils of the Dromornis Stirtoni.


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