Genyornis newtoni — a giant ‘thunder bird’
Genyornis was a large flightless bird, considerably taller and heavier than the modern ostrich or emu. It had powerful legs and tiny wings, and probably most closely resembled its living relatives, ducks and geese. But instead of having webbed feet and a duckbill, Genyornis had large hoof-like claws on its toes and a big beak, with which it ate fruit and nuts, and perhaps small prey. Like modern birds, it had no teeth, but relied on gizzard stones to assist its digestion.
Genyornis lived in the dry grasslands and woodlands of southern and eastern Australia. Fossils have been found in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, especially on the surface of the dry Lake Callabonna. The bones of a number of birds have been found in one place, suggesting that they lived in flocks. Fossil eggs and footprints have also been found.
Genyornis was the last of the dromornithids, and was small compared to other species. This family of giant birds is known by a variety of names, including ‘thunder birds’, ‘demon ducks’ and ‘mihirungs’. Humans almost certainly lived alongside these birds, and some scientists think that hunting may have contributed to their extinction. Other scientists think the extinction of Australian megafauna was linked to the continent becoming drier during the last Ice Age.