The first book in my new series, Bridgers, will be released soon, so today's Awesome Animal comes from this book (sort of). I don't want to provide spoilers, so I'll just say that our heroes bridge to a world where they encounter some unusual birds. A lot of unusual birds. These are birds that don't exist, and never have existed, on our own version of Earth. But, there are a few extinct birds that lived on our version of Earth that are somewhat close. Including the Terror Bird.
So what the heck is a Terror Bird?
These were large flightless birds that lived in South America (and a few of them moved up into North America) between 62 million years ago and 15,000 years ago (although some evidence suggests they only survived until 1.8 million years ago). They were huge, fast, and vicious predators. We have found evidence of about 25 species of terror birds.
Amazing facts about Terror Birds
Terror birds were big! They ranged in size from 3.3 to 9.8 feet (1 to 3 meters) tall. It is thought that the larger ones weighed at least 330 pounds (150 kg). In fact, the largest bird skull that has ever been found was a terror bird skull, 28 inches (71 cm) long, with a wicked-looking predator beak that was 18 inches (46 cm) long.
Terror bird is an appropriate name for these creatures. They must have struck terror into the mammals that they preyed on. They had clawed wings that were more like arms. They had huge talons (hind feet) that were probably very powerful. They almost definitely grabbed their prey in with their huge beaks, but CT scans of their skulls indicate that they couldn't swing their prey side to side with much force. They had much more power in their up and down motion, and therefore it is thought that they killed their prey by grabbing the creatures in their massive jaws and bashing them into the ground repeatedly until they were dead. Today, seriemas, roadrunners, and secretary birds still practice this feeding technique.
And they were fast. Based on the birds' size and the structure of their bones, scientists believe they could run at least 35 miles per hour (56 km/h). It is possible that these birds sometimes ate large mammals, but most likely they commonly ate rabbit-sized creatures that were easier and less dangerous to kill.
Check out this fun Discovery Channel video about terror birds.
Scientists are pretty sure there is a descendant of terror birds still living today. It is called the Seriema. There are two species, and they live in South America (where most of the terror birds once lived). They stand a little less than a meter tall (35 inches). They can fly for short distances, but they typically hunt while running. They even escape predators by running, and they can run fast. Like their terror bird ancestors did, they chase down prey, such as insects, lizards, snakes, frogs, birds, and rodents. See photo below.
So, the terror bird deserves a place in the U.A.H.O.F. (Unreal Animal Hall of Fame).
FUN FACT: The word unreal was first used in about 1600. It originally meant not real, imaginary, or fanciful. But much more recently, particularly in North America, it began to be used with a meaning more like amazing or wonderful (as in, "This pasta salad is unreal!"). So it is another way to say awesome!
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