Two-meter “terror birds” – the main predators of Antarctica 50 million years ago

Currently, Antarctica is not particularly rich in fauna, as it is an icy continent with an extreme climate. Most of all, it is associated with harmless penguins waddling along the ice on the coast. However, Antarctica was not always so cold and lifeless. Approximately 50 million years ago, the continent was green with an abundance of different animals and birds. Among them there was one terrible creature – a two-meter bird of prey, which was called the “bird of horror”, or “horror monster”. Perhaps it was the most ferocious and dangerous predator in Antarctica.


«Bird of Terror» was the most dangerous predator of Antarctica millions of years ago

Ancient bird of prey from Antarctica

A team of scientists was excavating the La Meseta Formation, an Eocene sediment on Seymour Island in Antarctica. Fossils of small mammals, which were common on the island, were usually found here. These were mainly marsupial insectivores. There were also small birds of prey, but scientists had never found the remains of large predators.

However, at some point, researchers stumbled upon something unusual – two fossilized claws 8 centimeters long. They immediately assumed that the claws belonged to a non-flying creature known as the “bird of terror.” Scientists gave this name to birds of the extinct family Phorusrhacidae (Phorusrhacidae). They were mainly large and active predators.

An ancient bird of prey from Antarctica. Fororacos birds were large and agile predators. Photo.

Fororacos birds were large and agile predators

Fororacos birds

Phororacids, or phororacids, are extinct birds of prey that lived between 62 and 0.1 million years ago. Their height reached three meters. One of the largest species, known as Titanis walleri, lived in North America until it became extinct 2 million years ago.

The largest species of fororacos is the clenken. This bird grew up to three meters and had the largest skull among birds – 75 centimeters. They lived 15 million years ago on the territory of modern Argentina. The last representatives of the fororacos died out approximately 100 thousand years ago.

Presumably, the birds ran quickly. They didn't have a very powerful bite force, but they could hit. Therefore, most likely, the Fororacos caught up with their prey and hit it with deafening blows.

Fororacos birds. Birds of terror grew up to three meters in height. Photo.

Terrorbirds grew up to three meters high

Ecosystem of ancient Antarctica

Ecosystem of ancient Antarctica


Unfortunately, besides the claws, scientists did not find other parts of the skeleton. Therefore, it is impossible to accurately determine their owner. However, the characteristic features and age of the fossils indicate that the bird of prey belonged specifically to the Fororacosidae or a group close to them.

According to scientists, the bird was about 2 meters tall and weighed about 100 kilograms. She was a ferocious hunter who fed mainly on small and medium sized vertebrates. Large claws and hooked beaks allowed them to catch ungulates and marsupials that inhabited the island. The researchers' authors report this in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

Scientists speculate that the bird to which the bones belonged was at the top of the food chain. This discovery, they believe, changes the understanding of early Eocene Antarctic continental ecosystems. As mentioned above, before this discovery, scientists assumed that ecosystems did not contain such large predators.

The ecosystem of ancient Antarctica. Scientists can only guess what the ancient birds looked like. Photo.

Scientists can only guess what ancient birds looked like

Researchers hope that they will be able to find other fossils that will provide more information about the “terror birds” and the environment in which they lived millions of years ago. Currently, erosion and climate warming are helping with this. Let us recall that the melting of glaciers and permafrost allows scientists to make archaeological and paleontological finds.

According to the researchers themselves, the Antarctic islands are subject to significant erosion, due to which new fossils are discovered every year. As a result, a unique opportunity is provided to learn more about ancient ecosystems.

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Finally, let us remind you that many amazing and very large birds of prey live on Earth to this day. We recently talked about the shoebill — a creature that grows up to one and a half meters in height and resembles a pterosaur in appearance. This bird mainly feeds on fish, but sometimes even feasts on small crocodiles.