Largest known flying bird had a wingspan of up to 24 feet

It is difficult for some to imagine that the tiny birds in their yard are defended from dinosaurs. It might help if those people could see the stages that came between dinosaur and robin.

Scientists have identified a new species of bird that lived in what is now South Carolina 25 to 28 million years ago. The long-extinct Argentavis magnificens had a wingspan of 20-24 feet, twice that of the largest living bird the Royal Albatross.

“The upper wing bone alone was longer than my arm,” said author Dan Ksepka of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina in a statement.

By its size and beak, researchers were able to classify the bird as belonging to a an extinct group of giant seabirds, known for the tooth-like bony spikes on its upper and lower jaws.

Based on the animals thin hollow bones, giant wings and stumpy legs unsuited for running researchers believe that P. sandersi would have been awkward on land but have no doubt that it flew.

Using computer modeling software, designed to predict flight performance it is believed that the animal had to use a runway to take off, running downhill and trying to catch a headwind or air gusts. Anyone who has ever tried to fly a large kite will have an idea what this might have been like.

Once in the air however, the bird would have functioned like a hang glider. Researcher believe that it aaas able to glide for miles on air currents from the ocean, occasionally diving to catch prey.

The fossil was originally discovered by contraction workers near Charleston, South Carolina in 1983. It was so large that its excavation required the assistance of a backhoe.

Ksepka’s findings can be found in the July 7 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.