First record of a giant bird (Ornithuromorpha) from the uppermost Maastrichtian of the Southern Pyrenees, northeast Spain

April 01, 2021

Manuel Pérez-Pueyo (1), Eduardo Puértolas-Pascual (1,2,3), Miguel Moreno-Azanza (1,2,3), Penélope Cruzado-Caballero (1,4,5,6), José Manuel Gasca (1), Carmen Núñez-Lahuerta (1,2,3), José Ignacio Canudo (1)
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 41, Issue 1, April 2021. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1900210


wind energy; blades; leading-edge erosion; coatings; microscopy; X-ray computed tomography; staged analysis


Throughout the evolutionary history of Avialae, several members of this clade have evolved into giant forms, in different time periods and ecological contexts. In Europe, the first birds that show this condition, the Gargantuaviidae, occur during the Late Cretaceous (late Campanian–early Maastrichtian), but it is during the Paleogene when more groups evolve large forms. However, until now, there was no record of any giant bird during the late Maastrichtian of Europe, close to the K/Pg boundary. Here we describe a cervical vertebra (MPZ 2019/264) from Beranuy (Huesca, NE Spain), which is the first fossil evidence of a giant bird from the late Maastrichtian of Europe, within Chron C29r. The vertebra displays some features, such as a well-marked heterocoelous articulation, lateral pneumatic foramina, ventral carotid processes, and a low neural spine, that support its inclusion within the clade Ornithuromorpha. This phylogenetic assignment is supported by two cladistic analyses. The vertebra is clearly different from the one assigned to Gargantuavis, meaning that it belonged to a distinct taxon. Although the kinship between these two taxa of giant birds is still unclear, this finding demonstrates that large-sized birds were part of the ecological communities of the Ibero-Armorican island from the late Campanian to the Late Maastrichtian, being present during the last hundreds of thousands of years prior to the K/Pg extinction event.

How Our Software Was Used

Dragonfly was used to process CT data.

Author Affiliation

(1) Grupo Aragosaurus-IUCA, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Zaragoza, C/Pedro Cerbuna, 12, 50009 Zaragoza, Spain.
(2) GeoBioTec. Departamento de Ciências da Terra. Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia. Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Monte da Caparica, Campus FCT, 2829-516, Caparica, Portugal.
(3) Espaço NovaPaleo, Museu de Lourinhã, Lourinhã, Portugal.
(4) Instituto de Investigación en Paleobiología y Geología (IIPG), CONICET, General Roca, 8332, Río Negro, Argentina.
(5) Universidad Nacional de Río Negro-IIPG, General Roca, Río Negro, Argentina.
(6)Departamento de Biología Animal, Edafología y Geología, Universidad de La Laguna, San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.