was a genus of extinct seabirds belonging to the family Pelagornithidae, a group known as the pseudotooth birds. They are called pseudotooth birds because their beaks are edged with points that look like teeth. These would have allowed the birds to grip their prey of fish and other marine animals. Pelagornis
comes from the Greek for "ocean" and "bird", meaning an ocean-going bird.
All species of pseudotooth birds were large, ranging from the size of a modern albatross up to wingspans of 5 meters of more. Species of Pelagornis
were some of the larger members of the group and might even have been the largest flying birds to ever live. Their relationships with living birds is not entirely known but their closest living relatives are probably pelicans and storks.
The large size of Pelagornis
made some researchers question if it could fly, but like many birds today their bones were thin and contained air sacs that were extensions of the lungs. These features would have made their skeletons light, probably allowing them to fly even at the large sizes they reached. Pelagornis
fossils are also found around the world suggesting they could travel long distances much as albatross do today. Unfortunately, the same features mean their bones are very fragile so they are usually found only as fragments that are often also crushed.
Until quite recently pelagornithids were known from every continent except Australia. There aren't many birds known from the fossil record of Victoria but in 2004 fragments of Pelagornis
from late Miocene-early Pliocene (6.2 to 5 million years ago) rocks at Beaumaris in Victoria were found by members of the public, completing its global distribution more than 150 years after the genus was first described.
As well as a global distribution, pelagornithids have a very long fossil record, from the late Paleocene (around 50 Mya) to the Pliocene (Around 50 to 2.5 million years ago). Why pelagornithids disappeared isn't clear but their extinction was probably caused by a combination of factors, including changing climate as the Ice Age began.
is one of eight candidates for Victoria's fossil emblem.