Terror Bird
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Basic Information

Terror Birds are a generic term for a class of large, flightless, carnivorous birds that evolved some time after the fall of the dinosaurs and persisted, in some cases, into early human era. The technical name is phorusrachids. Found mostly in South America these creatures peaked in the 3m tall, 150kg Titanis and the 1.75m, 300kg Brontornis, but included a range of smaller creatures. Given the absence of any mammalian carnivores in South America at the time, these were apex predators and remained so in many places after the junction of the Americas and, possibly, right up until their extinction (probably at human hands) with the rest of the pleistocene megafauna.

The available fossils seem to indicate a range of predation styles - some species appear to have used their powerful legs to kick and claw prey to death whilst others appear to have used a powerful beak to kill with slashing pecks … likewise, there seems to be a range between chasing and ambush predators, some may also have been kleptoparasites or scavengers. It is not clear whether they hunted as packs or alone - again, this may have varied by species. It would be sensible to regard them as the direct heirs of the raptor species of dinosaur. Even herbivore species are likely to be dangerous if spooked or annoyed, much like a cassowary (but potentially much larger).

Sources

Bibliography
2. Movie: Mysterious Island (1961) — Includes a fight with a gigantic Harryhausen bird, although one created through super-science rather than a natural species of megafauna.

Game and Story Use

  • The (herbivorous) elephant bird held out in Madagascar until the 17th century - an age of discovery or colonial era campaign could very easily run into terror birds in some isolated location.
    • "Can it be et at all Stephen?" "That it can, by The Dear, though uncommon tough. I would venture it to taste like chicken - albeit a boiler of the lowest sort…"
    • An all-bird island might be an interesting ecology.
  • Similar, but less impressive, flightless birds also dominated New Zealand until the coming of man.
  • Generally an impressive - and underused - predator. The big ones should be easily capable of killing a man, and even the smaller ones should be a significant hazard - especially if hunting in a pack.
  • Should be pretty cheery as a monster in many fantasy settings.
  • Other giant birds could be amusing - imagine a giant, aggressive penguin as a marine predator.
  • Some have speculated that Big Bird from "Sesame Street" was an apex predator, or evolved from one. His beak is the wrong shape for a carnivore, though, and his dietary habits seem strictly limited to birdseed. Still, he has the size for it.
    • Arguably too much size for a seed-eater … you'd struggle to find that much naturally occurring grain to sustain birds of that size. He's hiding something.
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