Thunderbirds – Avian Megafauna

Thunderbirds are go!

Giant thunder bird (demon bird) Genyornis newtoni

Muesum Victoria


Genyornis (pronounced jen-ee-or-nis) was a large flightless bird from the Pleistocene era1.8 million to 40,000 years ago. It was considerably taller and heavier than the modern ostrich or emu, and had powerful legs and tiny wings. It probably most closely resembled its living relatives, ducks and geese.

Instead of having webbed feet and a duckbill, though, Genyornis had large hoof-like claws on its toes and a big beak, which it used to eat fruit and nuts, and perhaps small prey. Like modern birds, it had no teeth, relying on gizzard stones to assist its digestion.

Genyornis lived in the dry grasslands and woodlands of southern and eastern Australia. Fossils have been found in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, especially on the surface of the dry Lake Callabonna in north-east South Australia. The bones of a number of birds have been found in one place, suggesting they lived in flocks. Fossil eggs and footprints have also been found.

It was the last of the dromornithids, a family of giant birds known by a variety of names, including ‘thunder birds’, ‘demon ducks’ and ‘mihirungs’. Genyornis was small compared to other species in the family, and almost certainly lived alongside humans. Some scientists think that hunting may have contributed to their extinction. Others believe the extinction of Australian megafauna was linked to the continent becoming drier during the last Ice