Bony-toothed birds (Pelagornithidae) were among the largest volant birds, but their representatives from the upper size range have so far been known only from very fragmentary fossils. Here we report an exceptionally well-preserved giant species from the late Miocene of the Bahía Inglesa Formation in northern Chile, in which most major limb bones are complete and uncrushed. The fossil has the longest wing skeleton of any bird, and its wingspan in life was at least 5.2 m. Mass estimates of 16–29 kg are, however, surprisingly low and within the range of large extant volant birds, or only moderately above. The fossil constitutes the most substantial record of the Pelagornithidae (bony-toothed birds), and is assigned to a new species, Pelagornis chilensis. It is one of the largest known pelagornithids and the three-dimensionally preserved bones allow recognition of many previously unknown osteological features, especially concerning the vertebrae, pectoral girdle, and limb elements. We revise the taxonomy of Neogene pelagornithids and propose classification of all Miocene and Pliocene species into a single genus, Pelagornis. Osteological features are highlighted in which giant Neogene Pelagornithidae differ from their smaller Palaeogene relatives.
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Vol. 30 • No. 5