The long snout shook back and forth as the Astrapotherium nipped off a tasty meal. It was a windy day, and it was this wind that covered the massive animal moving toward the feeding animal.
The grass parted silently in front of the creature, right before it leaped forward, a couple feet into the air and landed with a large boost of energy. The Astrapotherium turned its head quickly and snorted. Both creatures rushed off.
With strides covering many times that of his prey, the predator quickly ran up beside it and, with one swift move of his beak, struck the creature in the neck. The blow was directed right for the spinal cord, and that is right where it hit. The Astrapotherium dropped to the ground, paralyzed, before the predator, a gigantic, flightless bird tore him to digestible pieces.
The predator spoken of above was actually a group of flightless birds that are said to have conquered two whole continents as the top predator. According to the theory of evolution, even when the saber-toothed cats and wolves came onto the scene, these terror birds (otherwise knows as phorusrhacids), were the dominant predators for a long time.
With gigantic beaks, legs, bodies and acute senses, it comes as no surprise that phorusrhacids were so dangerous. Because these birds are flightless, this is usually the first thing discussed about them; well before any ideas on how they hunted.
The fact is flightless birds are still known today in the ostrich, penguin, etc. But, none of the birds living today had much of a build like the phorusrhacids. With the smallest known one being 3.3 feet tall and the largest at 10 feet, these birds could pack a punch to predator or prey.
Their wings were nearly completely gone but, as all birds today, they had feathers covering their bodies. Although they weren’t used for flying or gliding, they would have kept the animal warm or cool in times of cold or heat. A necessary thing when you live in the Americas.
After the wings, come the legs. The ostrich has quite a reputation for its kick and speed, and its this reputation, and bone fossils found of phorusrhacids, that leave scientists thinking that phorusrhacids had great speed and power in their legs.
When a phorusrhacid needed food it would probably have crept up on its prey and ambushed it. This would give a short chase before the phorusrhacid would outrun it and take it down with a swift blow to the spinal cord. Phorusrhacids are believed to have an average running speed of 40 mph, a considerable advantage to a predator of their size. Also, considering that their probable prey wouldn’t have been very fast, it serves as one more tool for hunting.
The beak of phorusrhacids is probably the most studied part of these terror birds. Usually the most intact fossils of the birds, the beak has opened up so many amazing details that the scientific community has exploded with theories and explanations.
When the beaks of phorusrhacids were first studied, they noted, quite obviously, that they were huge. With some reaching 2.5 feet in length, these beaks were not meant for simple prey like fish or insects, but for much larger prey that would need a vicious blow to take them out. In the case of phorusrhacids, they had the exact beak that they needed to get dinner ready.
As the phorusrhacid’s beaks sloped down toward the end, it was capped off with a very strong, downward “hook”. This hook is found in many other birds of prey, but never in this magnitude. With this type of hook, it is believe that these birds could have killed a full-grown animal with one fatal blow.
With this type of action, scientists believe that the phorusrhacids would have aimed for the spinal cord when they took out their meal. With their beak, powerful legs and fortified neck, they could easily paralyze an animal with a single blow.
So, with their amazing power, and not to mention brilliance, these phorusrhacids should have had no problem dealing with the world they lived in. And that does not even mention the individual phorusrhacids out there that each exhibit their own, special features. You’ll just have to get out there and find out some information (for those interested, there will probably be more direct features of these phorusrhacids on this website at a later date)!