Genyornis

genyornis
Genyornis. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Genyornis (Greek for "jaw bird"); pronounced JEN-ee-OR-niss

Habitat:

Plains of Australia

Historical Epoch:

Pleistocene (2 million-50,000 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About seven feet tall and 500 pounds

Diet:

Probably omnivorous

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; hooved, three-toed feet

 

About Genyornis

From Genyornis' Australian provenance, you might think it was closely related to modern ostriches, but the fact is that this giant prehistoric bird had more in common with ducks.

For one thing, Genyornis was much more solidly built than an ostrich, packing about 500 pounds into its seven-foot-tall frame, and for another, its three-toed feet were hooved rather than clawed. The truly mysterious thing about this bird is its diet: its jaws seem to have been well-adapted to cracking nuts, but there's evidence that occasional servings of meat may have been on its lunch menu as well.

Since Genyornis is represented by numerous fossil remains--both of various individuals and of eggs--paleontologists have been able to pinpoint with relative accuracy when, and how fast, this bird went extinct. The speed of its demise about 50,000 years ago, toward the end of the Pleistocene epoch, points to relentless hunting and egg-raiding by early human settlers, who reached the Australian continent around this time from elsewhere in the Pacific. (By the way, Genyornis was a close relative of another Australian mega-bird, Bullockornis, better known as the Demon Duck of Doom.)