Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Big Birds - Surviving Terror Birds

extant seriema
Red Legged Seriema. From [1]

The closest living relatives of the Terror Birds are the (much smaller) seriemas, which live in the southernmost regions of South America.

The seriemas are the only surviving members of the ancient family Cariamidae which dates back to nearly 63 million years, and which comprised the Terror Birds.

They can be found in northern and central Argentina, though not in Patagonia.

There are only two species, the Red Legged Seriema (Cariama cristata) and the Black Legged Seriema (Chunga burmeisteri). Both measure about 75 to 90 cm tall (30 to 35 inches. Omnivorous, they also eat snakes, frogs, small mammals and insects.

The Black Legged Seriema runs quickly (60 km/h - 37 mph) and only flies if forced to, and then, only for a short distance.

Their monstrous relatives

Imagine their prehistoric relatives, monsters that weighed up to 40 kg (88 lb.) and were about 1,40 m tall (5 ft.), who eat large sized mammals competing with the Sabre tooth cat!.

A recent paper [1] indicates that one of these terror birds, the Andalgalornis steulletiits "bite's strength" was smaller than expected and that it must have it "applied multiple well-targeted strikes in a repetitive attack-and-retreat strategy" or restrained its prey -though it lacked claws. Its big but hollow beak could not withstand lateral shaking so the bird pecked with repeated boxer-like blows at its victim (see an image here).


[1] Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled
[2] Degrange FJ, Tambussi CP, Moreno K, Witmer LM, Wroe S, (2010). Mechanical Analysis of Feeding Behavior in the Extinct “Terror Bird” Andalgalornis steulleti (Gruiformes: Phorusrhacidae). PLoS ONE 5(8): e11856. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011856

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 


  1. hello, Have you any sightings of modern phorusrhacids? I know some have been made, I think they originated from brazil though I'll have to ask a friend of mine who found the articles refering to them, If I remember they were collected by czech cryptozoologist jaroslav mares, which is unfortunate as I can't read any of his material, most of which refers to cryptids of south america.

  2. Thank you for your coment.
    I have not heard or read of any recent sightings of phorusrhacids. Though, during the 1922 Plesiosaur expedition in Chubut, Patagonia, F. B. Loomis noted that the local Patagonian gauchos (cowboys) “sometimes talk of great wingless birds”, he attributed it to their alcohol induced fantasies (The New York Times, (1922). Seeing things in Patagonia. New York. US 11.03.1922). I will check your czech (no pun intended) reference by Jaroslav Mares.
    Thanks again!

  3. And in parts of South America the Red Legged Seriema are captured young by farmers and raised with domestic poultry becuase their exelent sentries and snake killers

  4. Very nice blog..thanks foe sharing..


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