There was a time when birds ruled the skies. They were graceful, powerful, and free. But then something happened that changed their fortunes forever. Somewhere along the way, these creatures lost the ability to fly and were forced to adapt or perish. Here are seven of the most fascinating flightless birds from prehistory that you need to know about.
This massive pterosaur was one of the largest flying animals ever to grace the skies. With a wingspan that stretched an impressive 36 feet (11 meters), it’s no wonder that this predator could take down prey as large as a small car. But despite its size, Quetzalcoatlus was actually a rather light creature, thanks to its hollow bones and air-filled sacs. It is thought that this pterosaur used its size and weight to its advantage, swooping down on unsuspecting prey and crushing them with its powerful jaws.
This massive bird was one of the largest predators of its time. Standing at around 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall, it was roughly the size of an adult human. Gastornis had a massive beak that could reach up to 12 inches (30 cm) in length, which is used to tear apart its prey. This bird was so imposing that early naturalists thought it was a carnivorous dinosaur. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Gastornis was correctly identified as a bird.
The moa was a family of large, flightless birds that lived in New Zealand until they were hunted to extinction by humans in the 14th century. These birds were truly massive, with some species reaching heights of 12 feet (3.6 meters). Moa were herbivores and had long necks and legs that helped them reach the leaves at the top of trees. They also had powerful talons on their feet, which they used to defend themselves from predators.
4. Great Auk
The great auk was a flightless bird that lived in the North Atlantic Ocean. These birds were about the size of a goose and had black plumage with white spots on their wings. Great auks were excellent swimmers and could dive to depths of 60 feet (18 meters) in search of fish. But their impressive swimming skills couldn’t save them from extinction. The last known great auk was killed in 1844 and the species has been extinct ever since.
The dodo is one of the most famous extinct animals in the world. This flightless bird was native to the island of Mauritius and lived until it was hunted to extinction by humans in the 17th century. The dodo was a large bird, weighing up to 23 pounds (10 kg). It had grey plumage and a big beak that it used to crack open nuts and seeds. The dodo was also notable for its lack of fear of humans, which made it easy for sailors to hunt them for food.
6. Elephant Bird
The elephant bird was a giant, flightless bird that lived on the island of Madagascar. These birds were related to the ostrich and could reach heights of 10 feet (3 meters). Elephant birds had long necks and legs, and their bodies were covered in thick, grey plumage. They laid the largest eggs of any bird in history, with some measuring up to 12 inches (30 cm) long. The elephant bird was hunted to extinction by humans in the 13th century.
The emu is a large, flightless bird that is native to Australia. These birds are similar in appearance to ostriches and can reach heights of 6.6 feet (2 meters). Emus have long necks and legs, and their bodies are covered in soft, brown feathers. These birds are excellent runners and can reach speeds of up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour. Emus are also notable for their ability to go without water for long periods of time.