Extinct wonder recreated by local artist’s Elephant bird mural
The massive elephant bird egg on view at the Delaware Museum of Natural History fascinates visitors as a highlight of the extensive bird egg collection. The rare specimen from this extinct animal is one of few remaining intact elephant bird eggs in the world. And just as the egg’s large size is often compared with nearby eggs from an ostrich and a tiny hummingbird’s egg, people are also curious about the comparative size of the elephant bird to other birds.
A mural, installed across from the Museum’s bird egg exhibit, depicts the mysterious bird, capturing its mighty physique and stature for visitors to ponder. The original, detailed painting, based on images and historical descriptions, was painted by artist Ilianna Teixido in 2009 in consultation with Museum staff, including Curator of Birds Jean Woods, Ph.D. “This is an artistic representation that gives a sense of how magnificent, large, and stately these birds used to be,” Ilianna said.
The elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus, lived on the island of Madagascar, located off the eastern coast of Africa. The large, flightless bird spanned up to 12 feet tall and weighed an estimated 1,100 pounds. A large ostrich, by comparison, weighs only 300 pounds at a height of about 8 feet. Unlike modern avian relatives, the elephant bird had thick legs, huge claws with talons, and a spear-like bill. At 13 inches in length, the species’ eggs were much larger than those of dinosaurs and had a volume capacity equivalent to roughly 160 chicken eggs.
European sailors exploring Madagascar in the 16th century brought the eggs, which measured 3 feet in circumference, home as souvenirs. The elephant bird may have lived on the island for 60 million years but went extinct by the end of the 17th century, possibly because of human interference. The elephant bird was an herbivore with no natural predators, and therefore ill-equipped to adapt to colonization. Their eggs were vulnerable to poaching by people, who could easily feed their whole family with one egg. Since the eggs were so large, they could only be laid in small numbers – making it difficult for the population to survive. Other extinction theories are that humans hunted the birds themselves for food, or climate change resulted in a drier environment that contributed to the elephant bird’s demise.
A Yorklyn resident originally from Russia, Ilianna also contributed the vividly colorful insect mural hanging near the entrance to the African Watering Hole.