Approximately four decades ago, a team of paleontologists found a large number of fossils on Seymour Island, which is located in the Antarctic Peninsula. The fossils were brought to the University of California, and some of them were added to a museum exhibition.
The fossils piqued the interest of a graduate student in 2015, and he started to study them with other researchers. Some of the fossils seem to be linked to pelagornithids, which were predator birds that ruled the Southern skies for millions of years.
Also known as bony-toothed birds, the pelagornithids sported teeth that were quite sharp as well as long beaks, which helped them to prey on fish and squids found in the oceans. Their bodies were massive, as the wingspans reached up to 21 feet (or 6.4 meters). Some of the fossils infer that specific individuals could have been even bigger.
The researchers used the fossils to determine the general size of the birds. Among the fossils, there is one of a foot bone that is the largest one among the group of pelagornithids, a feat which is also claimed by a jaw bone fossil.
According to the research, the pelagornithids were the largest flying birds during the Eocene period and also some of the largest birds that have existed. The footbone is over 50 million years old, while the jaw bone is a bit younger at nearly 40 million years.
The existence of such fossils proves that birds evolved at a rapid pace after the extinction of dinosaurs, becoming powerful predators. It is worth noting that ancient Antarctica was considerably warmer, allowing a large number of species to flourish, including some mammals, early penguins, and the ancestors of some modern bird species.
More fossils and species could be discovered in the future.