Fossils of Giant Ancient Bird Found on Indonesian

Fossils of Giant Ancient Bird Found on Indonesian

Alisa Opar
Published: 12/10/2010

Artist’s impression of the giant stork next to a Homo floresiensis hobbit.
Avid birders would undoubtedly love to espy the newly discovered prehistoric giant marabou stork—from a distance, that is. The six-foot-tall, 35-pound creature may have hunted the human-like hobbits—Homo floresiensis, a hominin species closely related to us, but smaller—that also inhabited Indonesia’s Flores island during the Pleistocene.
 
While there’s no direct evidence the storks ate hobbits, it’s possible, paleontologist Hanneke Meijer of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History told the BBC. Meijer and colleagues found fossilized leg bone fragments from what they believe is one stork in the Liang Bua caves. The bones were found in sediments between 20,000 and 50,000 years old.
 
“Finding large birds of prey is common on islands, but I wasn't expecting to find a giant marabou stork," Meijer told the BBC.
 
Meijer and his colleague Rokus Due of the National Center for Archaeology in Jakarta, Indonesia, think the bird—called Leptoptilos robustus—probably evolved from flying storks that populated the island. The giant marabou stork itself didn’t fly much, if at all, they suspect. “The large body size and terrestrial lifestyle of L. robustus are responses to an unbalanced, insular environment with abundant prey items and a lack of mammalian carnivores, and emphasize the extraordinary nature of the Homo floresiensis fauna,” they write in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
 
No one knows for certain why the stork and hobbit went extinct, but a volcanic eruption may have contributed to their demise.
 
For those interested in other bird mysteries (or fans of Sesame Street), check out senior editor Julie Leibach's post on what kind of species Big Bird is.