Prehistoric Earth Wiki

A restoration of Gastornis as a predator

Gastornis is a large flightless bird that lived in the Late Paleocene to Early Eocene. The name Diatryma is a synoynm of this genus.


Gastornis stood about 2 meters tall, high enough to look a person in the eye. It had a very large beak (though lacking the distinctive hook that "terror birds" had) and long, powerful legs.


Gastornis, despite its large size, is currently believed to be an anseriform, in the group that includes ducks and geese. There are four known species: G. parisiensis, G. giganteus, G. sarasini, and G. russeli.[1]


Reconstructed skeleton of Gastornis

Gastornis was named in 1855 by Constant Prévost after the discoverer of the fossils, Gaston Planté.[2] Planté is much better known for inventing the lead-acid battery four years later. The fossils themselves, found in France, were at first believed to have come from a giant crane.[3]

In the 1870s, paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope found much better remains of the genus in North America. He named the animal Diatryma, not realizing that a similar creature had already been described.[4] Eventually, it was realized that the two genera were the same, and the name Gastornis, being the earlier of the two, became the correct name for the animal under the laws of zoological nomenclature.[5]



The environment in which Gastornis lived was likely moist and forested.


Gastornis is traditionally depicted as a predator, but the bones of the bird suggest that it was not very agile. It had a very powerful beak,[6] which leads some scientists to suggest that Gastornis was adapted to cracking open nuts and seeds (and possibly fruits).

In popular culture[]

Gastornis as depicted in Walking with Beasts

Gastornis is much better known as Diatryma, due to the better preserved North American fossils. One notable appearance of the bird is in the BBC documentary Walking with Beasts, where it is shown living in Eocene Germany and hunting small mammals.


  1. Andors, Allison (1992). "Reappraisal of the Eocene groundbird Diatryma (Aves: Anserimorphae)". Papers in avian paleontology honoring Pierce Brodkorb–Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Science Series 36: 109–125.
  2. Prévost, Constant (1855). "Annonce de la découverte d'un oiseau fossile de taille gigantesque, trouvé à la partie inférieure de l'argile plastique des terrains parisiens ["Announcement of the discovery of a fossil bird of gigantic size, found in the lower Argile Plastique formation of the Paris region"]". C. R. Hebd. Acad. Sci. Paris (in French) 40: 554–557.
  3. Lemoine, V. (1881a). Recherches sur les oiseaux fossiles des terrains tertiaires inférieurs des environs de Reims 2. Matot-Braine, Reims. pp. 75–170.
  4. Cope, Edward Drinker (1876). "On a gigantic bird from the Eocene of New Mexico". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 28 (2): 10–11.
  5. Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002). Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Prague: Ninox Press.
  6. Witmer, Lawrence and Rose, Kenneth (1991). "Biomechanics of the jaw apparatus of the gigantic Eocene bird Diatryma: Implications for diet and mode of life". Paleobiology 17 (2): 95–120.