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Terror Bird Probably A Chicken At Heart
A giant "terror bird" deemed to have been one of Earth's top predators after the demise of the dinosaurs was probably a plant-loving herbivore, scientists have said.
The flightless Gastornis stood over six feet tall, had a massive curved beak and short stubby wings, resembling a giant dodo.
Its size, frightening appearance, and beak have led experts to believe it was a ruthless top predator in the prehistoric forests of western and central Europe.
But new biochemical evidence suggests that Gastornis may have been vegetarian.
Analysis of its fossilised bones shows a calcium composition similar to that of plant-eating mammals and dinosaurs.
Carnivores have a different calcium profile, because of the way the element becomes "lighter" as it passes through the food chain.
Lead scientist Dr Thomas Tutken, from the University of Bonn in Germany, said: "The terror bird was thought to have used its huge beak to grab and break the neck of its prey, which is supported by biomechanical modelling of its bite force.
"It lived after the dinosaurs became extinct and at a time when mammals were at an early stage of evolution and relatively small; thus, the terror bird was thought to have been a top predator at that time on land."
Dr Tutken led a team of researchers who studied fossilised remains of terror birds from a former open-cast coal mine in Geiseltal, Germany.
Their work was showcased at an international meeting of geochemists called the Goldschmidt Conference in Florence, Italy.
Suspicions about Gastornis were first raised when footprints believed to belong to the bird's American cousin did not show the expected imprints of sharp claws.
Some experts have also pointed out that the creature's sheer size and inability to move fast may have hampered its ability to prey on small, quick mammals.
The scientists hope to confirm their results with further studies on other fossils.