Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Beware the The Daemon Duck of Doom

Stilton's Thunder Bird (Dromornis stirtoni)

These flightless birds from the Late Miocene have been found on Alcoota Station in the Northern Territory. They grew to 3 m plus, with a skull 46 cm long and 14 cm deep, and may have gone up to 50 cm long. They lived in open woodlands. They were taller than the Madagascan elephant bird and at 500 kg, were heavier than the New Zealand Moa. They were thought to have eaten tough fruit until a skull was studied. They are thought to have been the largest, tallest and heaviest, bird that ever lived. They also may have been carnivores, though this has been challenged. They were long-necked and their wings had been reduced to mere stubs. A skull was found in the Bullock Creek Local Fauna in the Camfield Fossil Beds on Camfield Station, Northern Territory. Dromornis lacked the hooked beak, but the size and strength of its beak and skull, and the structure of the beak, the front part being specialised for cutting and the back part for crushing indicate that it may well have eaten meat, if only opportunistically as a scavenger. The scientist studying the fossils, Dr Steve Wroe from the Australian Museum, thinks they were probably omnivorous. The lack of a hooked beak and claws on its toes would suggest it was not a specialised carnivore.

Their remains have been found that were as recent as 50,000 years ago, which means they would have been around for thousands of years after the Aboriginal People arrived in Australia about 60,000 years or more ago. The Dreamtime stories of Aboriginal People in some parts of Australia include a giant emu that "ate many people". Maybe a reference to just such a bird as D. stirtoni

Some believe that this species should be reassigned to the genus Bullockornis.

The Dromornithidae are actually more closely related to the anseriformes, ducks and geese, than to the emus as the appearance indicates.

They inhabited subtropical open woodland in Australia in the Late Miocene. The fragmentary nature of the type species fossils for the genus Dromornisi, D. australis, the type species of the genus, and the long time span between the this and D. stirtoni, has led some to suggest that D. stirtoni should possibly be assigned to the genus Bullockornis.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Dinosaurs of Australia and New Zealand, John A. Long, UNSW Press, 1998
  2. Peter F. Murray & Patricia Vickers-Rich, Magnificent Mihirungs: The Colossal Flightless Birds of the Australian Dreamtime, Indiana University Press, 2004
  3. Mary E White, After the Greening, The Browning of Australia, Kangaroo Press, 1994


  1. Dromornithidae images
  2. Anseriformes
  3. Giant duck a flesh eater
  4. Dromornis
  5. 16622404.800-the-demon-duck-of-doom.html







Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 30/09/2011
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