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RE: Giant \"Ducks\"
"Mihirungs were a unique group of Australian flightless birds also known as
?thunderbirds? and were derived from early waterfowl (ducks, geese, and
I believe the idea that dromornithids (mihirungs) are derived from waterfowl
("Anseriformes") stems from Murray and Megirian (1998), and later research
by Vickers-Rich and others. This overturned the long-held belief that
dromornithids were ratites. "Magnificent Mihirungs: The Colossal Flightless
Birds of the Australian Dreamtime." is the most comprehensive treatment of
this group to date, even though certain aspects of the volume came under
withering criticism from Olson (2005).
Murray, Megirian, and Vickers-Rich propose that the dromornithids belong
within the Anseriformes, close to the extant Anhimidae (screamers). The
"giant duck" thing is a little misleading, considering that these authors
align mihirungs with screamers (both phylogenetically and
ecomorphologically), rather than waterfowl like ducks. There is some
controversy over just how close dromornithids are to anseriforms, and
whether or not the first anseriforms were filter-feeders (like most modern
anserines) or macrofeeders (like screamers and the magpie goose... and
mihirungs, if they are true anseriforms). Wroe (1998) certainly believes
the mihirungs to be carnivores.
Some dromornithids were not all that large, like the cassowary-sized
_Barawertornis tedfordi_. On the other hand, _Dromornis stirtoni_ may have
been the heaviest bird ever (maybe weighing in 500 kg, and about 3m tall),
so the "giant" part of "giant duck" is appropriate for this guy (and several
other dromornithid species).
Murray, P.F. and Megirian D. (1998) - The skull of dromornithine birds:
anatomical evidence for their relationship to Anseriformes. Records of the
South Australian Museum, 31: 51-97.
Olson, S.L. (2005). "Magnificent Mihirungs. The Colossal Flightless Birds
of the Australian Dreamtime." The Auk: 122: 367?371.
Wroe, S. (1998). Bills, bones and bias: did thunder birds eat meat?
Riversleigh Notes 40: 2-4.