STL Science Center

STL Science Center

20 December 2015

Giant Facts, Giant Bird

The revelation from yesterday that Gastornis is an enormous duck should have sunk in quite well by now. If it has not, here are some interesting facts about that giant duck. The first fact pages come from the BBC which chose Gastornis as a key figure in the Walking With Prehistoric Beasts series that appeared after the dinosaur series. That version of Gastornis was well done; however, they did imply that the hatchet-like movement of the beak was basically the same mechanism used by other large birds that lived, rather than noting the lack of a known hook on the premaxilla. The page hosted by Dinosaur Jungle does not worry about this hook-and-hatchet conundrum and instead simply discusses the facts that are know about Gastornis. Intriguingly, the image used on the page makes Gastornis look much more like a giant walking eagle and a great deal less like a duck relative; we do not expect it to look like a duck exactly, despite how much we have mentioned that it is related to ducks and geese. Of perhaps the most interest today, is an entry in Brian Switek's National Geographic blog Laelaps which introduces the idea that the bill of Gastornis was constructed for a more herbivorous diet than a fleshy diet. I must highly recommend reading this as an introduction to the topic of diet that we will discuss in the next couple of days. The last time Gastornis appeared in this blog we accepted the predatory role, and it was mentioned heavily in yesterday's entry also, but we will explore other uses of the morphology of the bill that we have been very actively discussing this weekend so far.

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