February 03, 2012

The Dinosaur in the Lobby

Paraphysornis brasiliensis
Like many natural history museums, the Burke has a dinosaur in the lobby. Ours just happens to be a terror bird. (All birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs are birds!) In honor of this year's Dino Day, meet our terror bird.

The theme of Dino Day this year is "Predators and Prey"and terror birds were top predators. These giant flightless South American birds had huge hooked beaks and sharp claws. Ranging in size from the 3-foot-tall Psilopterus lemoinei to the 10-foot-tall Brontomis burmeisteri, they probably killed their prey by stabbing it with their hooked beak. Their strong legs might have helped hold down struggling prey while the beak stabbed and ripped it.
Terror bird foot

As for who they ate, we can't be sure. Larger terror birds probably could have eaten small- to medium-sized mammals.

There are no birds alive today close enough to terror birds to tell us exactly how they lived and hunted. Modern large, flightless birdsostriches, emus, rheas, and cassowariesare not hunters (although they can be dangerous). Terror birds' closest living relatives, the seriema, may be close to what the smallest terror birds looked and acted like.

Terror bird head

The Burke's terror bird is a cast (replica) of Paraphysornis brasiliensis. It lived in Brasil 23 million years ago.

Dino Day 2012 is coming up on Saturday, March 3rd!

Posted by: Winifred Kehl, Communications