Big Bird

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Elephant Bird

Even though Big Bird was 8 feet two inches tall, he wasn’t the biggest bird we know about.

The biggest bird that ever lived was the Elephant Bird of Madagascar that stood nearly 10 feet tall and weighed about 1700 pounds. Its egg weighed 22 pounds. Extinct since the 17th century, there were reports by the French Governor of Madagascar in the 1640s of a large bird that inhabited unpopulated regions. Marco Polo also mentioned the large birds he encountered in the 13th century.

Like most flightless birds on islands, the Elephant bird probably evolved from a flightless ancestor. DNA analyses tell us that although the elephant bird is related to the ostrich and emu and other ratites, its closest relative is the much smaller Kiwi. Ratites are a group of flightless birds that include the Kiwi, Ostrich, Emu, Rhea, Cassowary. They have no keel on their sternum, hence no place for flight muscles to attach. Ratite comes from the Latin ratis, a raft with no keel. Another large bird, genus Dromornis, or thunderbird, came close to the size of the elephant bird, some say even larger, and roamed the plains of Australia about 13 million years ago. North America had a few species of Gastornis, big birds, but they only approached six and a half feet tall. And then there is the bird with the biggest head. Living in what is now Argentina 15 million years ago, Kekenken was over six feet tall, weighed 350 pounds, had a head 28 inches long and ran 35 mph. Being carnivorous, I’m glad I wasn’t around 15 million years ago. Bird watching would have been far too exciting.


There are other flightless birds, about 60 species of them, including penguins, several ducks, grebes, a cormorant, and several rails. And a parrot. The kakapo also called owl parrot, is a large flightless parrot of New Zealand.  But just recently the New York Times reported that scientists discovered the largest parrot that ever lived.


“New Zealand today is home to a number of physically impressive parrots. Kakapo, the heaviest psittacines alive, are too chubby to fly. Sharp-beaked keas are strong enough to attack sheep and yank rubber parts off cars.

Once upon a time, though, there was a prehistoric Polly in New Zealand who had them all beat. This bruiser of a bird — whose discovery was announced Wednesday in Biology Letters — was perhaps three feet tall. At about 15.4 pounds, it was as heavy as some bowling balls, and twice as massive as the kakapo, which had previously held the record. That’s a lot of crackers.

“To have a parrot that big is surprising,” said Trevor Worthy, a vertebrate paleontologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia and the paper’s lead author. “This thing was way outside of expectations.”

The parrot’s bones were found near St Bathans on New Zealand’s South Island, where fossil deposits are filled with creatures from the early Miocene, a period that spanned 19 million to 16 million years ago.” NYTimes 6 August 2019. For more about extinct parrots and parrots in general, visit the Parrot Trust.

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