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New ancestor of biggest bird ever discovered by Aussie palaeontologists

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A newly discovered distant relative of the duck has just been hailed as an ancestor of the biggest bird the world has ever known by a group of Australian palaeontologists.

They say Dromornis murrayi, which at 250kg was originally the ‘baby’ of the ancient ‘Mihirung’ family of Dromornis giant birds, eventually evolved into the world’s biggest bird, D. stirtoni, before going extinct.

“It lived in the late Oligocene – early Miocene, and was the first member of the lineage of Dromornis species,” says Dr Trevor Worthy, from Flinders University in South Australia, who led the study.

“Originally, it was the smallest, at a pretty hefty 250 kg, but by eight million years ago it had evolved into D. stirtoni, which averaged a whopping 450 kg – with some individuals reaching 650 kg – the largest birds the world has known.”

Dr Worthy’s team of palaeontologists, from Finders University and University of New South Wales, revealed the news in a study just published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“Mihirungs were giant flightless birds only found in Australia and are known only from fossils,” said Dr Worthy. “The largest stood two metres high at its back and reached well over three metres at the head.

“They survived until the Pleistocene period when Genyornis newtoni, the last species, died out, probably about 50,000 years ago.”

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