Speed Reads

that's a big bird

Bird with 21-foot wingspan could be the largest to ever live

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a bird the size of a (really small) plane!

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paleontologist Daniel Ksepka describes the extinct Pelagornis sandersi as having a wingspan nearly 21 feet across, making it the largest flying bird ever found. The fossil was discovered in 1983 near the Charleston Airport in South Carolina, but sat in a drawer at the Charleston Museum for almost three decades before Ksepka stumbled upon the bones. He ended up naming the bird after Albert Sanders, the now-retired museum curator who collected the fossils.

Pelagornis sandersi likely lived 25 million to 28 million years ago, and had sharp tooth-like cones on its beak. The larger a bird is the heavier it gets, which makes it difficult for the muscles to propel it into the air. In the case of the Pelagornis, Ksepka thinks it's entirely possible it was able to fly despite its gigantic size, due to the bird's body being pretty small in proportion to its extremely long wings. Because of that, it was probably able to glide at 39 miles per hour.

This discovery will "raise the ceiling for birds — we increase the upper limit of how large we knew birds could get in terms of wingspan," Ksepka told the Los Angeles Times. "It's just another example where the fossil record can tell us something about biology that we might not be able to know from what we have around today."