Since the bones of prehistoric birds are so fragile, it is rare that fossilized avian remains appear in the Fossil Record. Researchers have traced early bird fossils in Florida during the early Miocene Period, which dates back 20 million years ago. In this article, you will learn more about prehistoric bird fossils and of one particular species with a terrifying name.
The majority of bird fossils that have been uncovered come from a site called Thomas Farm. One of the most common specimens found at the site is the ground dove. Other remains that have been identified at the location include a hawk, ancient turkey, anginga, a chachalaca, and ibis. Another location where many skeletons have been collected in the late Pliocene Sarasota quarries. More than 1,600 specimens have originated from this site. The primary fossilized species that surfaces at the location is the Cormorant – an extinct creature that is thought to have died from a 'Red Tide' kill that caused them to wash up into a lagoon.
Other sites that have yielded a great deal of bird fossils include the Phosphate Mines of Bone Valley, the Leisey Shell Pits and the Haile Quarries.
Common characteristics amongst prehistoric predatory birds include large, strong feet, enormous head, and sharp beak. The birds resided in open savanna dotted with oak trees. In Florida, the birds lived during the Pliocene Period, and are estimated to have become extinct about 1 to 2 million years ago.
The Terror Bird
When studying prehistoric bird fossils, an interesting specimen is the Terror Bird – known to scientists as the Titanis walleri. This creature was the largest predatory bird to have ever roamed the earth. The giant birds were not able to fly – mainly because they weighed about 330 pounds and were seven feet tall – all of this despite having wings that measured three feet long. The wings played no role in flight, but scientists feel that they probably functioned like arms for the creatures. The bird was equipped with hand structures that are comparable to certain dinosaurs, such as the Velociraptor. The birds became extinct in North America after they migrated from South America.
The diet of a prehistoric Terror Bird mainly consisted of small rodents, mammals, reptiles and carrion. Researchers believe that the bird may have been able to reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour when trying to track down their prey. Once they had a meal in their sights, they would use their huge feet and large claws to hold the victim down. Their beak was as sharp as an axe, which they used to complete eating their meal.
The Terror Bird built nests that were on the ground. When the time was right, they deposited gigantic eggs in their nesting surroundings.
The Titanis walleri belongs to a species of family called the Phorusrhacidae. The fossils that the birds have left behind have been found in a previous sinkhole in the Santa Fe River in Gilchrist County, Florida. During the 1960s, a scuba diver uncovered the fossilized toe and foot bones of the prehistoric bird. Another example of a Titanis walleri bone was found in Citrus County, Florida. Interestingly, the fossils of the prehistoric birds are so large – they are sometimes mistaken for the fossils of large mammals. This means that some of these bones remain unidentified as bird remains.
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