Researchers have revealed that the largest flying bird ever to live on Earth had about twice the wingspan of the largest flying bird alive today.
Findings show that the species, called Pelagornis sandersi, had an estimated wingspan of 20 to 24 feet. Those numbers include the length of the feathers, making it twice as big as the royal albatross, which is the largest flying bird alive today. The albatross has a wingspan of about 11.4 feet.
Pelagornis sandersi could fly long distances, despite its enormous size. Researchers estimate that its weight would have been between 48.2 to 88.4 lbs, and in order to take off, it would have had to get a running start or take advantage of strong winds. After getting off the ground, however, the bird could then travel long distances over the ocean in search of food.
“It’s a really remarkable species,”study author Daniel Ksepka, a paleontologist and curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, told Live Science. “It really pushes the limits of how big we think flying birds can get. Getting a chance to add something like this to the avian evolutionary tree is really exciting.”
Prior to this discovery, it was thought that the now extinct Argentavis magnificens was the largest flying bird ever to live on Earth.
“It’s disputed how large Argentavis‘ wingspan was — we only have one wing bone for it,” Ksepka said. “We think the wingspan of Argentavis’ skeleton was a bit under 4 meters (13.1 feet), while the skeletal wingspan of P. sandersi was about 5.2 meters (17 feet). Now both of their wingspans would be longer once feathers are taken into account, but P. sandersi would still probably be larger than Argentavis.”
The fossil of Pelagornis sandersi was first discovered in 1983 in South Carolina, when construction works were digging to build a new airport. However, the findings were not detailed until June 7th, when Ksepka published them in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.