The biggest bird that ever flew had a 17-foot wingspan, more than 6.6 feet longer than today's record-holding albatross, The Australian reported Thursday.
What's more, the enormous seabird lived until as recently as 2 million years ago and sported a long, fearsome beak with spiny, tooth-like projections.
The evidence comes from the largely complete, uncrushed skeleton of the extinct seabird Pelagornis chilensis, unearthed in Chile.
"Bird watching in Chile would be thrilling if birds with more than five-meter (16.4-foot) wingspans and huge pseudo-teeth were still alive," said avian paleontologist Gerald Mayr from Germany's Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg in Frankfurt.
Along with Chilean paleontologist David Rubilar of the National History Museum in Santiago, Mayr reported the find in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. They argued that knowing the maximum possible size of a bird would clarify the physics of bird flight.
"Note that these birds are true 'modern birds.' They're not some sort of Mesozoic toothed bird," said Mayr, referring to creatures such as Quetzalcoatlus, the legendary -- and toothless -- pterodactyl that soared the skies more than 65 million years ago.
Trevor Worthy, an avian paleontologist with the University of New South Wales, said the find was spectacular.
"The quality of the fossil is just amazing," he said. "It's also got an interesting history."
According to Worthy, the fossil was collected, probably illegally, about three years ago and on-sold to a German collector in 2008. The Senckenberg Nature Research Society purchased the fossil and has returned it to Chile.
Read more: The Australian