elephant bird

This post may contain affiliate links to our partners such as Chewy, Amazon, etc. These purchases help us further AZ Animals' mission of educating the world's species.


Elephant birds are extinct flightless birds. They are thought to have existed on the island of Madagascar during the Pleistocene and Holocene. They became extinct around 1000-1200 AD. New Zealand kiwifruit are their closest living relatives. Elephant birds belong to the ratite family Aepyornithidae, which includes the genera Mullerornis, Vorombe , and Aepyornis . Other ratites include ostriches, emus, rheas and cassowaries.

description and size

Elephant birds were huge (compared to modern birds). In fact, the origin of their common name is a reference to their size. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who published a description of the bird, claimed that the hawk-like bird was strong enough to "catch an elephant in its claws". While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, the name has stuck with them.

They belong to the class of ratites, which includes several large flightless birds with long necks and legs. Elephant birds have a conical beak, two short legs, three-toed feet, and small wings. Wings are useless in the sense that they cannot fly. Despite their long legs, elephant birds are also slow runners.

Three genera of elephant birds have been described, and they vary slightly in size. The largest of these is the Vorombe titan , which is generally considered the largest bird in the world. It weighs between 1,600 and 1,900 pounds. Members of the genus Aepyornis reach a height of 9.8 feet and weigh between 770 and 1,100 pounds. The smallest elephant bird is a member of the genus Mullernis .

Given their huge size, elephant birds lay huge eggs. In fact, they have the largest bird eggs ever found. Each is 13 inches long, weighs 22 pounds and is 160 times larger than an egg.

Read more  Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars: Everything You Need to Know
cassowary-sized elephant bird
The largest elephant bird , Vorombe titan, is generally considered the largest bird in the world.

©Nicolas Primola/Shutterstock.com


Elephant birds are herbivores. They eat the seeds and leaves of plants that grow in their native habitat on the Madagascar archipelago. Rainforest fruits have thick rinds, but fossil evidence suggests that the guts of giant birds are perfect for getting these fruits through. Experts believe elephant birds played an important role in the spread of fruit plants on the island.


During the late Pleistocene, elephant birds lived on the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Étienne de Flacourt was the first French governor of Madagascar and wrote the first comprehensive report on birds. He also claimed that "big birds" could still be seen in certain parts of the island in the mid-17th century.

These giant birds inhabited the forests of southern Madagascar before humans migrated to the region 2,000 years ago. Elephant birds living in forest habitats have a more developed sense of smell than elephant birds living in open habitats.

Experts believe elephant birds may have led a nocturnal lifestyle like their living relatives, the kiwi. They came to this conclusion based on the reduced size of the optic lobes, which suggests an active nocturnal life. Members of the genus Mullerornis likely lived an evening lifestyle because their optic lobes did not shrink like others.

threats and predators

Humans are the main threat to elephant birds. Populations of these birds thrived long before humans arrived on the island. When humans came along, they hunted elephant birds for food, and their activities destroyed the birds' habitat. It seems that the giant bird eggs are the most at risk. Archaeologists have found traces of human fire in the eggshell remains. From this it follows that eggs must have been a regular food in human households at the time.

Read more  chimpanzee

As humans settled down, they felled many trees and started forest fires. These activities have adversely affected the natural habitat of the birds. They occupy less and less land, they are forced to hide, and their numbers are greatly reduced.

finds and fossils

Fossils of elephant birds are plentiful, possibly because they were recently extinct. Their first remains were discovered in western Madagascar in the 19th century. French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire published the first complete description of the bird. Initially, elephant birds were divided into 13 different species. But with more comprehensive research, the number has been reduced to four to eight species, grouped into three genera.


There is some uncertainty about exactly when the elephant bird went extinct. The persistence of giant bird stories over many centuries may have contributed to this ambiguity. Some believe they became extinct in the 17th century. Other sources say they disappeared long before then (probably between 1000 and 1200 AD).

Elephant birds once abounded on Madagascar. It is widely believed that human activities led to the extinction of giant birds, especially Lunornis . Several pieces of evidence support the theory that the flightless birds were hunted and their habitats destroyed.

Bones extracted from recovered remains often show tool marks, suggesting humans hunted them. However, some scientists tend to question this theory. The time frame between the arrival of humans on the island and the extinction of the birds seems too short to be the sole cause of their extinction.

Another theory of extinction suggests that human activities had adverse secondary impacts that contributed to the disappearance of elephant birds. In addition to habitat loss due to human activities, human domestication of animals (such as chickens) may have infected giant birds with super diseases, causing them to die in large numbers.

Read more  What a baby elephant is called and 9 more amazing facts!

animals similar to elephant birds

Animals similar to elephant birds include:

  • Moa — A moa is an extinct flightless bird native to New Zealand. They are slimmer and smaller than elephant birds. Male and female moas have been wrongly classified as different species in the past because of the significant differences between them.
  • Kiwi — The kiwi is the smallest bird in the ratite family. On average, they are about the size of a modern domestic chicken. Research has shown that kiwis are more closely related to elephant birds than moas.
  • Ostrich – The ostrich is the largest flightless bird in existence and one of the oldest. Native to parts of Africa, they can reach speeds of up to 43.5 miles per hour thanks to their long legs.
  • terror bird
  • dodo bird
  • cassowary

See all 116 animals that start with E

Yes, elephant birds are extinct. The remains of this giant bird have been found in Pleistocene deposits in Madagascar.

Elephant birds have the largest eggs of any bird. Elephant bird eggs are 160 times larger than ordinary eggs. The eggs are 13 inches long and weigh about 22 pounds.

Elephant birds lived between the Pleistocene and the Holocene. They probably went extinct around 1000-1200 AD. However, sightings of the bird and its eggs have been reported in the 17th century.

Elephant birds are among the largest birds that ever lived. In fact, the Vorombe Titan holds the title of largest bird ever discovered, weighing between 1400-1900 lbs. On average, elephant birds are about 9.8 feet tall.