Ancient Kangaroo-Sized Turkey Once Lived in Australia

Paleontologists at Flinders University in Adelaide have discovered that a giant flying turkey the size of a kangaroo roamed Australia millions of years ago.

According to reports, the finding came from a recent study about large extinct birds called megapodes, an Australasian family of medium-sized birds similar to chickens that usually incubate their eggs in mounds in the soil. It revealed that more than half of native species in the said group are extinct.

Five megapodes are related to animals that can be found now, including the brush-turkeys, which are known for their bright-colored head and dark plumage, and the malleefowl, an endangered bird that has a size like that of a chicken.

Wikimedia Commons/Dick DanielsAn Australian Brushturkey or Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami found in Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, North Carolina.

The university confirmed that all of the five extinct birds are considered giants, since they range from 6.5 pounds to 17.5 pounds — significantly bigger than the maleefowl's 4.5 pounds. However, the giant brush-turkey Progura gallinacea's size dwarfs the others, with its height similar to a full-grown gray kangaroo, given its long legs.

"These discoveries are quite remarkable because they tell us that more than half of Australia's megapodes went extinct during the Pleistocene, and we didn't even realize it until now," Flinders Ph.D. candidate and researcher Elen Shute said. "We compared the fossils described in the 1880s and the 1970s with specimens discovered more recently, and with the benefit of new fossils, differences between species became really clear."

The IB Times points out that these giants birds flew through Australia during the Pleistocene era. It was around the same time period when humans started migrating there 50,000 years ago. Although the ancient Australian natives would have seen the species that are now extinct, they may have never encountered the huge birds mentioned in Flinders University's study. In their findings, the researchers noted that there's still no evidence humans either crossed paths or hunted the said birds.

For more details, the Flinders team's paper on the ancient megapodes can be viewed on Open Science.