Story at a glance:
- The oldest fossil species that belongs to the eagle was found in a dried up lake.
- The bird is called the Archaehierax sylvestris, which means "ancient hawk of the forest."
- The bird had short wings and long legs, meaning it probably ambushed its prey.
South Australian palaeontologists found the oldest species of fossils that belongs to an eagle — and it is millions of years old.
The 25-million-year-old fossil was discovered on the remote shore of Lake Pinpa, which has been dried up since 2016.
Scientists published their findings in the journal of Historical Biology. They identified the new species as Archaehierax sylvestris — meaning "ancient hawk of the forest," according to ABC News (Australia).
The bird is slightly smaller than a wedge-tailed eagle, the largest bird of prey in Australia, with a footspan of about 15 centimeters, according to Ellen Mather, the study’s first author.
“It would have been probably one of the larger eagles around at the time, based on what we know,” she told The Guardian.
“We believe that it would probably have been preying on most of the small-to-medium birds and mammals that were also alive at that time, so things like the ancestors of modern possums and koalas living in the forest,” Mather said.
This eagle had short wings and long legs, meaning it probably ambushed its prey in the woods.
“That’s pretty common in forest eagles,” Mather told The Guardian. “It’s an adaptation for essentially having to fly through a more cluttered space compared to eagles that live in more open spaces like grasslands or woodlands.”
“We think it would have been an ambush hunter. So while not a very fast flyer, it would have been quite agile, able to make quick turns, and probably would have waited [on] a perch for prey to wander within striking distance.”
The fossil beats the previously-oldest known bird in Australia — the Pengana robertbolesi, which lived around 23 million years ago.
Walter Boles, an avian palaeontologist discovered and named Pengana robertbolesi, but he was not involved in this study.
"We know Australia has a whole big fossil record of birds of prey, but very few have actually been formally published," Boles told ABC. "This [study] is nice, because of the age and relative completeness of the skeleton, and the fact that it has been analysed in depth and named."
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