University of Copenhagen: Researchers identify ancient bird behind giant eggs from Down Under

A years-long research debate over which animal is the rightful mother of giant prehistoric eggs in Australia has been resolved. In a new study, University of Copenhagen researchers and their international colleagues demonstrated that they can only belong to the last of a unique duck-like line of megafauna known as the ‘Demon Ducks of Doom’.

Imagine sharing your neighborhood with a two-meter tall, 200 kg bird with a massive beak. This was the case for Australia’s first human inhabitants some 65,000 years ago.

There, our ancestors lived alongside the last species of a now extinct duck-like bird family; Genyornis newtoni, last of the ‘Demon Ducks of Doom’.

The flightless bird laid eggs the size of cantaloupe melons, seemingly to the delight of ancient humans, who most likely harvested and enjoyed them as an important protein source, according to a new study by UCPH researchers and an international team of colleagues. The study has been published in the distinguished journal PNAS.

The large eggs have been at the center of controversy since researchers first discovered the 50,000-year-old eggshell fragments 40 years ago. Until recently, it was not known whether the eggs actually belonged to the ‘demon-duck’ family, more formally known as dromornithids.

Scientific researchers around the world have been uncertain about which bird laid the eggs since 1981. Some suggested Genyornis newtoni, while others believed the shells to be from Progura birds – an extinct member of a group of species called megapodes. Progura were “chicken-like birds”, with large feet and only weighing between five and seven kilograms.