Absurd Creature of the Week: The Murderous 10-Foot-Tall Bird With a Beak Like a Pickax

by Matt Simon

These are the terror birds: scrappy, powerful critters that drove their enormous hooked beaks through small mammals as easily as that guy who put a pickax through my crazy uncle’s skull in a bar fight that one time (he survived, and no, I’m not even kidding). The 18 known species, the tallest growing to a staggering 10 feet tall, didn’t bother with flying, instead opting to chase down all those creatures that had only just thrown their good-riddance-to-the-massive-carnivorous-dinosaurs party. The poor things woke up with a hangover, and the hangover was the terror bird.

It was 60 million years ago in South America, which had not yet joined with its northern counterpart, where the terror birds rose to power in isolation as apex predators. Even given their success, their fossils are fragmentary and extremely rare, according to paleontologist Luis Chiappe, who in 2007 described the titanic, strangely boxy noggin of the biggest terror bird ever: Kelenken, named after the fearsome bird spirit of Patagonia’s native Tehuelche people…

(read more: Wired Science)

illustrations: Stephanie Abramowicz, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; photo: Luis Chiappe, NHMLAC

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