Buteogallus daggetti
Buteogallus daggetti

Buteogallus daggetti, occasionally called "Daggett's eagle" or the "walking eagle", is an extinct species of long-legged hawk which lived in southwest North America during the Pleistocene. Initially believed to be some sort of carrion-eating eagle, it was for some time placed in the distinct genus Wetmoregyps, named for Alexander Wetmore. It probably resembled a larger version of the modern-day savanna hawk, with its long legs possibly used like the secretarybird of Africa to hunt for small reptiles from a safe distance. It died out about 13,000 years ago.

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Fossils of B. daggetti were discovered in the La Brea and Carpinteria lagerstätte in southern California, and in Nuevo León in Mexico. Its habitat included grasslands, marshlands, brushy savannas and ponds. It probably ate mostly small reptiles such as snakes. As is often the case with birds of prey, the female seems to have been larger than the male.

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In life, B. daggetti is thought to have resembled the related savanna hawk, also of the genus Buteogallus : B. daggetti had long legs which earned it the nickname "walking eagle". Miller (1915) concluded that these legs had little lifting power and weakly grasping claws compared to eagles that hunt on the wing. Conversely, the points of strong muscle attachment on the shaft of the tarsus suggest walking proficiency. He likened this "degeneracy" to the relationship of the roadrunner to tree-dwelling cuckoos. As with many birds, its females were larger than the males, an example of sexual dimorphism.

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However, it is some 40 percent larger than the savanna hawk. This gives it a total length of 64–90 centimetres (25–35 in), including 26–32.2 cm (10.2–12.7 in) of tail; its wingspan would have been 169–196 cm (67–77 in). Body weight is estimated at 3 kilograms (6.6 lb). This makes it quite a heavy raptor, slightly greater than the present-day secretarybird of Africa. This African raptor shares the long legs of B. daggetti and their lifestyles may have been similar (see "Ecology" below).

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Habits and Lifestyle

Buteogallus daggetti habitats comprised open grasslands, marshlands, and savannas from sea level to 2,250 metres (7,380 ft).

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Because of its large size and long legs, B. daggetti is theorized to have lived rather like the modern-day secretarybird. Its diet would have been composed mostly of snakes and other small reptiles, which it would have kicked to death with its long legs. Not just good weapons, these legs would have kept the bird at a safe distance from its struggling prey. Olson's paper guessed that B. daggetti may have been attracted to grass fires as the savanna hawk is today. These fires chase out small animals, which then make easy prey for the raptors.

Olson disputes claims that B. daggetti was primarily a scavenger, and that its extinction was somehow linked to the decline of the North American Pleistocene megafauna. He likewise found Miller's vision of the bird as a forest-dweller "spurious".

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1. Buteogallus daggetti Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buteogallus_daggetti

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