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Gastornis
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Anseriformes
Family Gastornithidae
Genus Gastornis
Conservation Status
EXSpecies
Extinct
Gastornis is an extinct genus of large flightless birds that lived during the late Paleocene and Eocene epochs of the Cenozoic era. Gastornis were very large birds, and have traditionally been considered to be predators of small mammals. However, several lines of evidence, including the lack of hooked claws in known Gastornis footprints and studies of their beak structure, have caused scientists to reinterpret these birds as herbivores which probably fed on tough plant material and seeds.

Species

  • Gastornis parisiensis
  • Gastornis giganteus
  • Gastornis sarasini
  • Gastornis geiselensis
  • Gastornis russeli
  • Gastornis xichuanensis

Description

Gastornis is known from a large amount of fossil remains, but the clearest picture of the bird comes from a few nearly complete specimens of the species G. giganteus. These were generally very large birds, with huge beaks and massive skulls superficially similar to the carnivorous South American "terror birds". The largest known species, G. giganteus, could grow to the size of the largest moas, and reached about 6.6 feet in maximum height.

Range

Gastornis fossils are known from across western Europe, the western United States, and central China. The earliest fossils all come from Europe, and it is likely that the genus originated there. All other fossil remains are from the Eocene; however, it is not currently known how Gastornis dispersed out of Europe and into North America and Asia. Given the presence of Gastornis fossils in the early Eocene of western China, it is possible that these birds spread east from Europe and crossed into North America via the Bering land bridge. It is also possible that Gastornis spread both east and west, arriving separately in eastern Asia and North America across the Turgai Strait.

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