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Re: Phorusrhacids killing large mammals in National Geographic Channel

On Tue, Jul 21st, 2009 at 1:32 PM, Augusto Haro <augustoharo@gmail.com> wrote:

> Last night I was watching a show at Nat Geo with phorusrhacids killing
> mammals larger than themselves like Woody Woodpecker, hitting with
> their beak, and apparently the downcurved tip of the upper jaw (as a
> sidenote, one also put a wolf to sleep with a karate kick on the
> head). As far as I know, no Recent bird uses the curved tip of the
> upper jaw in this way, but it helps tearing flesh from corpses. In the
> show it is also said that the beak is largely hollow... would not this
> make the beak more fragile, and thus less likely to perform such
> blows?

Most birds that I can think off that 'peck' things to death tend to have 
relatively straight beaks (like 
storks for instance), which makes more sense from an engineering perspective. A 
shallow curve 
can be useful if you're swinging into the hit like a pick-axe, however I 
suspect most 'peckers' (if 
you'll excuse the term) tend to drive their beaks straight ahead rather than 
swing through an arc.

If anything, sharp curved beaks are better suited to pull back on things rather 
than peck forward. I 
imagine a phorusrhacid would be better off gripping and then pulling backwards 
rather than emulating the woodpecker from hell. 

That's if they used their heads at all to kill prey. It makes more sense to 
subdue prey with well-
armoured feet at the end of muscular legs, rather than risk bringing the head 
close to it. You can 
survive losing the occasional toe, but brain damage can really ruin your day. 


Dann Pigdon
GIS / Archaeologist                Australian Dinosaurs
Melbourne, Australia               http://home.alphalink.com.au/~dannj