Bird enthusiasts will be disappointed to know they were born millions of years too late. Palaeontologists from Flinders University in Australia have discovered five extinct megapode birds — among them, a giant brush-turkey called Progura gallinacea. The big bird was roughly the size of a kangaroo and weighed about 8kg yet it still managed to fly.
Image: Flinders University; By Elen Shute, from photos by Kim Benson, Tony Rodd and Aaron Camens
After comparing megapode fossils discovered roughly a century ago with ones found recently in the Thylacoleo Caves in Western Australia, the researchers concluded that the birds were five distinct species rather than the remains of some "giant ancestral pigeon". The bones date back to the Pleistocene era, about 1.6 million and 10,000 years ago. The team's research was published today in the Royal Society Open Science.
Megapodes are incubator birds indigenous to Oceania. Modern-day megapodes, such as the malleefowl or brush turkey, bury their eggs in compost mounds or underground. But their ancient relatives probably couldn't build mounds, since their feet were smaller and lacked the claws required to do this. Instead, they probably just buried their eggs in soil and called it a day.
"Given several of the largest birds to have lived in Australia in recent times have escaped detection in the fossil record until now, our research shows how little we know of Australia's immediate pre-human avifauna," palaeozoologist Trevor Worthy said in a statement. "Probably many smaller extinct species also await discovery by palaeontologists."
Pour one out for the big birds.