You may think your 10-pound Thanksgiving Day turkey is a big bird—and it is—but it's small compared to the giant turkeys that once roamed the Australian continent.
In a new paper published in Royal Society Open Science, paleontologists at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia share that they have discovered the fossils of birds that are cousins to the malleefowl and brush-turkeys of today—only much, much bigger. In fact, these now-extinct turkeys, a kind of megapode, were as tall as a gray kangaroo. (For those who've never met a gray kangaroo, they can be more than six-feet-six tall.)
The birds weren't just taller, either. Unlike malleefowl turkeys, an Australian bird that weight about two kilograms or about four-and-a-half pounds, these bigger birds likely weighed in between six and eight kilograms, or up to 18 pounds, the scientists say. Imagine cooking that bird for your Thanksgiving feast.
These megapodes lived during the Pleistocene—i.e., the Ice Age—which scientists estimate occurred some 11,000 to 2.5 million years ago. They didn't build mounds for their eggs like their modern-day family members, malleefowl and brush-turkeys, because their feet and claws were too big, the scientists say. Instead, they probably buried their eggs in sand or soil. Like their cousins, they did fly and, despite the birds' large size and heft, it's likely most still managed to nest in trees, the scientists say.
"Given several of the largest birds to have lived in Australia in recent times have escaped detection in the fossil record until now, our research shows how little we know of Australia's immediate pre-human avifauna. Probably many smaller extinct species also await discovery by paleontologists," said researcher Trevor Worthy.
Near where the scientists discovered these big birds they've also found seven new species of kangaroo, a frog, and two giant ground-cuckoos. And we thought Australian wildlife was fascinating today!