|Name Meaning||“Magnificent Silver Bird”||Height||1.5 to 1.8 meters (4.11 to 5.11 ft.)|
|Pronunciation||Ar-jen-tay-vis||Length||3.5 meters (11.6 feet.)|
|Era||Cenozoic– Neogene Period||Weight||70 to 72 kgs (154 to 159 lbs.)|
|Classification||Chordata, Aves & Cathartiformes||Location||Argentina|
Today you can find countless large bird species roaming the air, but they do not compare to the giant bird Argentavis that ruled the skies in Argentina during the end of the Pleistocene period.
Argentavis is one of the largest flying birds to ever exist, and with the size of a small plane they were a master at gliding through the skies.
Also called the Giant Teratorn, this ancient bird species is known from a few fossils discovered in south and northwestern Argentina.
Argentavis magnificens is the type species, and their name translates to the “Magnificent Argentine Bird”.
This bird belongs to the Teratornithidae family, which contains some of the largest predatory birds and mainly lives across North and South America.
It was only around 10,000 years ago did the last Teratornithidae bird go extinct, and today new world vultures such as the condor are the closest living relative to Argentavis.
Compared to the dinosaurs, Argentavis lived in a much different period and was alive with many flora and fauna that we can see today.
Fossil evidence and other similar birds to Argentavis are how scientists have managed to learn about this ancient species that lived around 6 million years ago.
This article will cover some amazing traits of the Argentavis, and some of the mysteries solved about this bird, like how this giant was able to fly.
The Argentavis is the heaviest known flying bird and also has one of the largest wingspans of birds known to man.
The size and weight of Argentavis are determined by what method is used to calculate the size of this bird, which is why the scientific consensus of their size has changed over time.
An extinct bird’s size can be determined by examining its tibiotarsus, and fossils from Argentavis suggested they had similar bodies to condors, which would give them a shorter wingspan for their height.
The wingspan of Argentavis today is estimated at around 5.09 to 6.5 meters (16.8 to 21.4 ft.), and they have a body mass of 70 to 72 kgs (154 to 159 lbs).
These birds stood as tall as a man, having a height between 1.5 to 1.8 meters (4.11 to 5.11 ft).
The beaks of Argentavis were filled with conical pseudo teeth, and their mouths were large enough to fit a whole rabbit.
When first discovered, the Argentavis was believed too large to fly, but they had several of the features of flying birds like hollow bones, feathers, and sturdy wings to support themselves in the air.
Habitat and Distribution
Argentavis lived in Argentina during the late Miocene period, around 6 million years ago.
They inhabited a region within the country that made up around 500 km2 (193 mi2.), and lived within the central and northwestern region of the country.
The legs of Argentavis were very sturdy, suggesting they spent a large portion of their time on the ground.
Argentavis lived in areas that had lots of wind, as scientifically it would have been nearly impossible for this bird to fly by just flapping their wings and take off without any outside help.
To fly, Argentavis needed high winds, and places like the Andes mountains and Argentina’s windy grasslands would have provided enough draft for them to be able to glide.
Due to the large size of Argentavis, it is likely they traveled distances on the ground searching for high places for them to take off or their next wind strong enough to get them off the ground.
The strongest winds in Argentina occurred in the middle of the day, so they had a short time period in the day when they could effectively take off.
By running down the downhill slopes or jumping off the ledges in their habitats, it made it possible for Argentavis to have taken off into the skies.
When in the air, Argentavis gilded with grace, and things only got rocky when landing or taking off.
Behavior and Diet
In the time period of Argentavis, a shadowy figure roamed the skies and put fear into the smaller animals that lived below them.
Argentavis was a carnivore, similar to modern condors, but had a beak more similar to eagles, suggesting they were more predatory.
Carrion could have made up a large portion of this bird’s diet, and soaring the skies would have made it easier for them to spot potential meals.
Argentavis also could have chased down predators like Thylacosmilidae, and stolen their meals from them.
Even smaller birds today, like the Andean condor, have been sighted attacking animals like wolves so they could steal their food.
The large size and wings of Argentavis would have been enough to intimidate most animals.
Smaller prey that lived at the same time as Argentavis like ground sloths, rodents, armadillos, and young animals are what this bird could have hunted.
When in the air, Argentavis had a cruising speed estimated at 67 kph (41.6 mph), and being able to travel long distances gave them a diverse selection of food.
In order to survive and maintain its large size, this bird would need about 2.5 to 5 kgs (5.5 to 11 lbs.) of meat daily.
It is possible Argentavis could have grabbed up smaller prey and eaten it without even touching the ground.
Scavenging is likely how Argentavis got most of their meals since they were not well muscled, but this bird probably preyed on animals it thought was an easy meal.
The large size, and ability to stay safe in the air means Argentavis likely had a long life span, and estimates have them living between 50 to 100 years old.
Argentavis are believed to follow K-selected reproductive strategies, which indicates they had little offspring, and had long periods of parenting and nurturing their young.
Like other birds, Argentavis reproduced by egg laying, and when raising their young, they were likely fiercely protective of them until their young were capable of going off on their own.
Argentavis being a scavenger relied on other animals to catch the majority of their food, so having too large of a population would have made it difficult for resources to maintain themselves without having a negative effect on the birds population.
Teratornithidaes like Aregentavis likely laid 1 to 2 eggs in their clutch, and their young could have taken up to 12 years to fully mature, and become self sustainable.
This giant bird went extinct only about 10,000 years ago, along with other giant animals that lived in North America.
A change in climate and a lack of prey is the current theory as to why Argentavis went extinct.
Evolution and History
The first Argentavis was discovered in 1980, and teratornithidae fossils have been pulled up in the Americas since the early 1900s.
Fossils from Teratornithidae have mainly been found in North America, but earlier ancestors likely stemmed from South America.
The oldest Teratornithidae fossils date back to over 25 million years ago, and these birds disappeared around 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene period.
Argentavis, and other relatives in the teratornithidae have been essential in learning how this family of birds evolved and what caused their extinction.
Fossils from Argentavis have been very rare compared to their relatives, and they have mainly been discovered in the Epecuén and Andalhualá Formations and two other Pleistocene beds in South America.
With more fossils discovered in the future of Argentavis there is still much that can be learned about this giant bird.
Interactions with Other Species
Argentavis lived around 6 million to 10,000 years ago in Argentina, and played a unique role in its habitat as a scavenger.
Some of the traits in the fossils of Argentavis suggest they could have been an active hunter, which include their hooked beak and long forearms.
Being extremely large and able to fly made it likely that this bird did not have any predators, but Phorusrhacids or terror birds could have threatened them when they went to the ground.
On the ground Argentavis was at its most vulnerable, especially since they needed a gust of wind to lift off.
Megafauna like Argentavis required lots of food, and the change in climate and the destabilization of habitats by humans over hunting are what caused species like Argentavis to go extinct, even though they were at the top of their food chain.
Argentavis is one of the largest, and heaviest birds to fly in human history, and was beneficial in helping scientists how species can manage to get flight, even if they couldn’t flap their wings.
Fascinating humans for over a hundred years, the magnificent size that is rarely seen in animals is why many have taken a liking to this bird.
This plane-sized bird has been featured in places like the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, and their giant skeleton looming over its visitors truly showed how large this bird grew.
You can also see this bird in games like Ark: Survival Evolved, where they are one of the largest birds you can tame.
Argentavis is not only an interesting bird to learn about but also gives insight into how teratornithidae evolved before across the Americas.
Argentavis is one of the largest known flying birds, and their wingspan is only smaller than giants like Pelagornis sandersi.
The largest birds to ever exist include elephant birds, but these could not fly.
Being so large it is surprising that a bird weighing up to 72 kgs (159 lbs.) could get itself off the ground, but these giants had a similar fall rate to modern condors that also glided through the sky.
Argentavis was likely a scavenger, and due to its weak muscular build did not try to overpower prey.
The large size of Argentavis would be enough to frighten any animal they lived with, and being able to fly also made it nearly possible for predators to attack them.
Birds like Argentavis are descendants from dinosaurs, and while there are millions of years separating these animals they still are interesting to learn about and show how amazing animals can evolve.
Did Argentavis live with humans?
Argentavis only went extinct around 10,000 years ago, and humans’ presence in Argentina dates to around 15,000 years ago, which means there were around 5,000 years when humans and these birds could have interacted.
There is still much to be learned about how humans interacted with Argentavis.
Today evidence still lacking like cave paintings and signs of humans hunting the giant bird that Argentavis and humans interacted with often.
Why couldn’t Argentavis flap its wings?
Despite having an extraordinary wingspan, the Argentavis could not flap their wings due to the sheer weight they carried.
The wings of Argentavis were too weak to carry them from the ground, and their muscles would easily tire if they tried to lift off as they were underdeveloped for their size.
Have there been discoveries of Argentavis feathers?
Argentavis is only known from fossilized specimens, and there have been no feathers of this ancient bird preserved.
Feathers are extremely rare to fossilize even in animals that have lots of them like some dinosaurs, and birds.
Feathers typically detach from the body after an animal’s death, and their lower density than bones makes them much less likely to fossilize.
The size of Argentavis feathers are estimated to have a length of 1.5 meters and a width of 20 cm.