Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Juggernaut of the Skies - Argentavis Magnificens

Known as the largest flying bird to ever be discovered, the Argentavis magnificens or the magnificent Argentine bird  lived on the mountainsides of Argentina six million years ago.
The photo above shows a silhouette of A. magnificens for size comparison with a human

The Argentavis magnificens is closely related to the Andean Condor, but it is speculated that Argentavis magnificens could also actively hunt and take live prey, as well as feeding on the remains of the deceased.  With a wingspan of twenty-three feet and weighing up to one hundred and seventy pounds this juggernaut of the sky had to use the energy provided by the atmosphere to get airborne.

A. magnificens had wings that were too long to just jump up and fly off into the sky, so like many other very large flying birds A. magnificens used a few tricks to get the lift needed to get off the ground.  Just like a hang glider A. magnificens probably took advantage of the headwinds and updrafts associated with high elevations to get its massive body off the ground.  Once in the air A. maginificens would have ridden the thermals to stay aloft just like birds today.

A. magnificens stood at around six feet tall and had a bill designed like an eagle rather than the modern day vultures and condors.  Because of the fossilized bone structure, the legs were probably big and strong, suggesting that A. magnificens was well adapted to walking long distances and living on the ground as well as soaring high in the sky.  It is theorized that A. magnificens would patrol the skies of the open grasslands feeding primarily on the carcasses of land animals.

A. magnificens also was an active hunter at times, when the opportunity presented itself.  A. Magnificens would probably have a hunting technique unique among other birds of prey because of its immense size.  It would most likely have to catch its prey off guard by swooping in from behind and picking it up and eating it without ever leaving the sky.  
A. magnificens was truly a big animal and pushed the size limit to the edge for flying.  To give you an idea of the mass of A. Magnificens--in comparison to the Bald Eagle, A. magnificens was about sixteen times heavier and had a wing span triple that of the Bald Eagle.

For a more in-depth description of this magnificent bird Click Here to read a paper written by Dr. Kenneth E. Campbell published by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in 1980.

In my humble opinion A. magnificens was one of the most impressive creatures that walked or flew on our planet.

Submitted by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary Field Studies Coordinator

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