Brain Of Extinct Horse-Sized Duck That Once Roamed Australia Has Been Mapped

A few years ago, different angles of the internet liked to ask if anyone would rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses. Perhaps those who asked knew that Australia was once home to a duck relative who weighed as much as a big horse.

Anyone considering our ability to fight Dromornis stirtoni (our advice, no) might be interested to know about the intellectual abilities of their potential opponents. Thanks, the answers are at hand. Eight species of the mihirung family – a primitive term for “giant birds” – left no fossilized brains for our study, but we did find skull specimens. Dr Warren Handley of Flinders University in Australia examined them and revealed abnormalities about the shape of the inside of the brain.

Since the regions of the brain devoted by different roles well preserved in animal species, there is much more to learn from knowing where the large bits of the brain of the mihirungs were. This has proven to combine with observations about other parts of the “doom duck” such as the size and location of the eye socket. Handley and Dr. Trevor Worthy have described mihirung in a variety of journals, “A relatively large cerebellum and related hindbrain.” 

Handley said in a statement, “The size of their brains and nerves, combined with their large, forward-looking eyes and very large bill, suggests that these birds may have perceived better stereoscopic vision or depth and fed a diet of soft leaves and fruit.”

“The shape of their brains and nerves tells us a lot about their sensory abilities and their potential lifestyles that enabled these remarkable birds to live in forests around rivers and lakes across Australia.” Gastroliths – Stones used by many birds to chop food – found with some fossils that confirm the nature of their diet. Mihirungs lived about 24 million years ago to about 50,000 years ago. The largest and last survivor, De stirtoni grew to be 3 meters (10 feet) tall with a male weighing 600 million (1,300 pounds). Although some estimates make the Madagascar elephant larger, Handley told IFLScience that it was the heaviest bird of all time to shake the earth, using a series of techniques to estimate weight.