Elephant Bird - Aepyornis maximus
One of the reasons I like volunteering at the Field Museum is that I get to see a lot of great behind the scenes objects, like this guy. This a a roughly 2 and a half foot tall, plaster sculpture that I have seen haunting the halls of the bird division for several years now. I love it so much. There is something very Dr. Seuss-like about it. Sometimes I worry out loud that it is lonely, and suggest to one of the ornithologists that it should come home to live with me. I am told no. Hmmm.
My buddy is an Elephant bird. Elephant birds are extinct ratites (ostriches, rheas, emu, kiwis) that were native to Madagascar. There is an extensive fossil record, and they are believed to be the world's largest birds. The known species are currently split in to 2 genuses: Aepyornis and Mullerornis, with each having 4 and 3 species respectively. The exact date of their extinction and the reasons are still being debated. Human impact seems to definitely have played a large role, but perhaps not the only one. Climate change could have been a factor as well. Elephant birds were up to 10 feet tall, with Aepyornis maximus being the largest.