Get to Know a Dino: Gastornis gigantea

On Exhibit posts

Decades ago, this extinct flightless species would have been called a bird, full stop. Today, this not-so-distant relative of Velociraptor is recognized as one more fascinating fossil organism in the unbroken line between one group of dinosaurs and modern birds. While flight is a defining characteristic of most birds, not all species take to the air. From penguins to cassowaries, the world today is still replete with flightless birds. 

Gastornis gigantea illustration

An artist's rendering of Gastornis gigantea.

© AMNH/Z. Chuang; courtesy of Peking Natural Science Organization


In Dinosaurs Among Us, you can see a the fossilized skull of Gastornis gigantea, a flightless bird that lived about 50 million years ago and would have stood taller than a full-grown human.

Velociraptor Model in Dinosaurs Among Us

A model of Velociraptor on display in Dinosaurs Among Us.

© AMNH/R. Mickens


Big Bird

This giant, flightless bird would have been an intimidating specimen in its days, likely standing more than six feet high. That would have made it significantly larger than its relative Velociraptor, pictured above.

Dietary Debate

For a long time, paleontologists thought Gastornis gigantea was a carnivore that hunted small animals. Scientists now think this extinct avian was actually a vegetarian related to ducks and geese.

Photo of ostrich

Even large birds like the ostrich evolved from smaller, flying ancestors.

Image by Nicor/Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Starting Small

All birds alive today—even ostriches, emus, and other hefty running birds—evolved from smaller, flying birds. The same goes for Gastornis gigantea, even if it’s hard to picture such a large animal developing from such miniscule origins. 

See the fossil skull of Gastornis gigantea, along with many other dinosaurs and early birds, in Dinosaurs Among Us, now on view.