A cluster of fossilized remains that were dug in 1983 were that of the world’s “largest flying bird” ever. But their significance had not been realized until recently. In a ground-breaking discovery, scientists have now identified the fossils. The extinct giant bird had the wingspan of a whopping 20-24 feet. The fossils of the bird, including its shoulder-blade, skull, wing bones and a hollow leg were unearthed in 1983 near Charleston, South Carolina.

The world’s largest flying bird existed about 25-28 million years ago

The new fossil was dug during excavations to build a new terminal at the Charleston International Airport. The discovery was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists have named the giant bird Pelagornis sandersi. It lived about 25-28 million years ago. That was the time when dinosaur had disappeared, but well before the first humans arrived.

Despite its enormous size, the bird was an efficient glider. P. sandersi‘s long, slender wings helped its stay afloat. Dan Ksepka of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina said its upper wing bone was longer than his arm. Ksepka extrapolated the wingspan, mass and wing shape of the bird with the help of a computer.

Flying Bird

How the giant bird flew

Scientists believe that this giant bird’s size surpasses the previous record holder Argentavis magnificens, which lived about six million years ago in South America. A. magnificens had an estimated wingspan of 19-20 feet. Today, the largest flying bird is the Royal Albatross, which has about half the wingspan of P. sandersi.

Researchers believe the recently identified bird was too big to take off just by launching itself from a standstill or flapping its wings. It could have taken off by running downhill or by taking advantage of the air gusts. Once airborne, P. sandersi could soar or miles without flapping its wings over the open ocean. Air currents rising up from the ocean’s surface helped the bird. It was more of a seabird, flying mostly above the ocean, and preying on squid, fish and eels.