Giant Bird, Jagged Grin

Illustration courtesy Carlos Anzures

Boasting a 17-foot (5.2-meter) wingspan and sharp, spiny “pseudoteeth,” this ancient seabird is one of the largest flying birds known.

Soaring above the oceans and mountains of what’s now Chile between five and ten million years ago, the newly discovered species, named Pelagornis chilensis, was part of a prehistoric group known as the bony-toothed birds. The hollow spikes on the birds’ beaks allowed the predators to grab slippery squid and fish from the ocean.

P. chilensis was identified based on an “exquisitely and exceptionally preserved” fossil skeleton that was found to be 70 percent complete, said study co-author David Rubilar of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in Chile.

The specimen includes the largest and most complete fossil bird wing yet excavated. Previous bony-toothed bird fossils included wings dug up in pieces, if it all, making it harder to accurately establish wingspan.