Asked by: Sam Crossley, Bradford
In terms of wingspan, the largest birds are those adapted for soaring, long-distance flight. The wandering albatross is the current record holder, with a maximum recorded wingspan of 3.7 metres, but prehistoric animals were even more impressive.
Pelagornis sandersi, a bird which lived 25 million years ago, had an estimated wingspan of up to 7.4 metres. Like albatrosses, it probably took to the air by running downhill into a headwind, or launching off cliffs. However, even P. sandersi was dwarfed by some of the pterosaurs, those flying reptiles from the time of the dinosaurs. The largest so far discovered is Quetzalcoatlus northropi, which may have weighed more than 200kg with a wingspan of 11 metres. That’s as wide as a Cessna 172 aeroplane! Computer simulations have shown that Q. northropi could soar at 130km/h and stay aloft for up to 10 days.