Fossil track of giant bird found in Washington state

At 10:24 a.m. Monday, July 12, in the foothills northeast of Deming, the heavy-duty helicopter gently lowered a sandstone slab onto a flatbed truck on loan from Western Washington University.

A safe distance away in the foothills drizzle, several members of WWU's geology department watched as their prize fossil - a top-grade track of an extinct giant bird - finally reached safety.

When it walked the Earth 50 million years ago, the flightless bird, called Diatryma, stood 7 feet tall and weighed perhaps 350 pounds. Think of a creature the size of basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, but with feathers and a massive beak.

People connected with the discovery and retrieval of the fossil say it's the first undisputed track print of a Diatryma ever found, anywhere.

"I'm really glad this is done," said George Mustoe, a research technician with the department who specializes in paleontology. "It took a long time."

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