Saturday, August 3, 2019

Big extinct Australian Bird

Giff and Marilyn at Geny Heaven (top); Megafauna: Geny is the large bird (bottom)

Genyornis newtonii
No one you’ve ever met has ever seen a Genyornis newtonii. That’s because around 45,000 years ago they went extinct. Like the emu, the Genyornis was a large, flightless bird. However, they were very heavily built and, as a result, were not the fastest movers. The large bird stood tall at around 2.2 meters with a weight of around 200-250 kg. With powerful legs, tiny wings, an enormous beak and hoof-like claws, the Genyornis has affectionately been nicknamed the ‘demon duck’.
Fossils of Genyornis bones and eggs have been found throughout the south, west, and east of Australia. During the time period that the Genyornis lived, these regions of Australia were probably more temperate grasslands. It is believed that the Genyornis ate mostly fruit and nuts with the occasional small prey, but these are guesses based on what their fossil bones look like. As in modern birds, the Genyornis had no teeth and therefore relied on small stones called ‘gizzard stones’ to help grind up and digest their food.
Riding trikes to get to remote field areas: Marilyn and Giff Miller, 2002
Because of their speedy extinction around 45,000 years ago, many believe persistent hunting and egg raiding by early aboriginal settlers led to the large bird’s disappearance. Others maintain that climate change and other natural factors also played a role. Scientists from this team found that Genyornis’ in south and eastern parts of Australia were probably subjected to extreme climate change due to early aboriginal burning. Based on their data, they found that Genyornis always needed fresh grass in its diet. When grasslands are burned, the edible tasty species of grass are damaged and no longer grow. Hard, spiny grasses, called Spinifex, are less tasty and may not have been able to support the large-bodied Genyornis.
We also don’t know if Genyornis ate small mammals, insects, and lizards like the emu does. Data from the ancient Genyornis reveals that it is highly likely that they did. How these large, flightless beasts were able to capture fast-moving prey is not known.

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