An ancient bird found in Australia and long thought to be an eagle is actually a vulture.

Back in history! An ancient bird that lived in Australia 500,000 years ago has been confirmed to be the Vulture – more than 100 years after it was misidentified as an eagle.

  • The bird has been kept in the Museum of South Australia for over 100 years.
  • It was originally thought to be an extinct relative of the wedge-tailed eagle.
  • A new analysis of the bones of its legs shows that it was actually a vulture.

In case of misidentification, a new study shows that the fossilized bird long thought to be an eagle is actually a vulture.

The fossil was kept at the South Australian Museum for over 100 years, where it was known as Taphaetus lacertosus, meaning “mighty grave eagle”.

However, a new analysis by researchers at Flinders University has confirmed the bird is a vulture that roamed Australia 500,000 to 50,000 years ago.

The team has now renamed the bird to Cryptogyps lacertosus, which means “powerful hidden vulture.”

A new study shows that if misidentified, a fossilized bird long thought to be an eagle is actually a vulture.

This bird was originally thought to be an extinct relative of the wedge-tailed eagle (left).  But analysis of the bones of its legs confirmed that it was actually a vulture (right).

This bird was originally thought to be an extinct relative of the wedge-tailed eagle (left). But analysis of the bones of its legs confirmed that it was actually a vulture (right).

Vultures play a key role in ecosystems

The vulture lived alongside huge herbivores like the diprotodon, as well as ferocious predators like the thylacoleo.

Vultures play a key role in ecosystems by eating carcasses and reducing the spread of disease.

“The discovery solves the mystery of what happened to so many megafaunal carcasses when there were no vultures on the continent,” said Dr. Trevor Worth, senior author of the study.

“Now we know they were here. They were hidden in plain sight.”

“Today we are familiar with a wedge-tailed eagle nibbling on a kangaroo carcass on the side of a road,” said study lead author Dr. Ellen Mather.

“Thousands of years ago, a very different carrion-eating bird would have been the one that most people now associate with the plains of Africa.”

The first bird bone, a fragment of a wing bone, was found near the Kalamurina homestead on the Warburton River in South Australia in 1901.

It was first described as an eagle in 1905 by the English ornithologist Charles Walter de Wies, who was living in Queensland at the time.

He believed that it was an extinct relative of the wedge-tailed eagle.

In the new study, the team compared the fossil to birds of prey from around the world to confirm or refute Wies’ findings.

“We compared the fossil material with birds of prey from around the world, and it immediately became clear that this bird is not adapted for hunting, which means that it is neither a hawk nor an eagle,” Dr. Mather explained.

“The features of the lower leg bones are too underdeveloped to support the musculature needed to kill prey.

“When we placed Cryptogyps in the evolutionary tree, it confirmed our suspicions that the bird was a vulture, and we are very pleased to finally publish information about this species.”

The findings were confirmed when Dr Mather linked newly discovered fossil material from the Wellington Caves in New South Wales and Leana’s Breath Cave in Western Australia to the Kalamurina fossil.

The now-extinct vulture lived alongside huge marsupial herbivores like the diprotodon, as well as ferocious marsupial predators like the thylacoleo, the researchers say.

“Today we are familiar with a wedge-tailed eagle nibbling on a kangaroo carcass on the side of the road,” said study lead author Dr. Ellen Mather (pictured with bones).  “Thousands of years ago, a very different bird would have fulfilled the carrion-eating role that most people now associate with the plains of Africa.”

“Today we are familiar with a wedge-tailed eagle nibbling on a kangaroo carcass on the side of the road,” said study lead author Dr. Ellen Mather (pictured with bones). “Thousands of years ago, a completely different bird would have served as a carrion eater – now most people associate it with the plains of Africa.”

Vultures play a key role in ecosystems by eating carcasses and reducing the spread of disease.

“The discovery solves the mystery of what happened to so many megafaunal carcasses when there were no vultures on the continent,” said Dr. Trevor Worth, senior author of the study.

“Now we know they were here. They were hidden in plain sight.”