Titanis Facts and Figures

Titanis walleri, a flightless carnivorous bird from the Pleistocene epoch

 Sergey Krasovskiy / Getty Images

To many avid horror fans, Titanis will be familiar as the predatory bird in James Robert Smith's best-selling novel "The Flock". This prehistoric bird could certainly wreak its share of mayhem: at eight feet tall and 300 pounds (give or take a few inches and pounds for possible sexually dimorphic differences between males and females), the early Pleistocene Titanis closely resembled its theropod dinosaur forebears that went extinct 60 million years before, especially considering its puny arms, massive head and beak, fully bipedal posture, and long-taloned, grasping hands.

Hunting and Survival Stats

Like other so-called "terror birds," Titanis had a particularly gruesome hunting style. This long-legged prehistoric bird easily outran the smaller mammals, lizards and birds of its North American ecosystem, at which point it would grasp its hapless prey in its long, wingless, taloned hands, convey it to its heavy beak, bash it repeatedly on the ground until it was dead, and then (assuming it was small enough) swallow it whole, perhaps spitting out the bones and fur. In fact, Titanis was so well-adapted overall that some paleontologists believe this bird managed to survive up to the very end of the Pleistocene epoch; however, convincing fossil evidence for this has yet to be discovered.

Not the Scariest Prehistoric Bird

As scary as it was, Titanis wasn't the most dangerous carnivorous bird of prehistoric times, and not as deserving of the epithet "titanic" as the truly enormous Elephant Bird and Giant Moa. In fact, Titanis was merely a late North American descendant of a family of South American meat-eaters, the phorusrachids (typified by Phorusrhacos and Kelenken, both also classified as "terror birds"), which attained comparable sizes. By the early Pleistocene epoch, about two million years ago, Titanis had managed to penetrate from its ancestral South American habitat to as far north as Texas and southern Florida, the latter of which is "The Flock's" modern-day setting.