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'Terror bird' might not have been so terrifying after all

The prehistoric Gastornis, or 'terror bird', may not have been so terrifying after all, scientists claim. Photo: Thomas Tutkin/PA Wire

A flightless "terror bird" that lived in England 50,000 years ago may have been a chicken at heart despite its fearsome reputation.

Gastornis stood over six-feet tall, had short stubby wings, and resembled a giant dodo with more attitude.

The terror bird's size, frightening appearance, and huge, curved beak led experts to believe it was a ruthless top predator in the prehistoric forests of western and central Europe.

But new biochemical evidence suggests that Gastornis may have been ... vegetarian.

Undated handout photo issued by the European Association of Geochemistry of a sketch of the skeleton of Gastornis. Credit: Thomas Tutkin/PA Wire

Analysis of its fossilised bones shows a calcium composition similar to that of plant-eating mammals and dinosaurs.

Carnivores have a different calcium profile, because of the way the element becomes "lighter" as it passes through the food chain.

Lead scientist Dr Thomas Tutken, from the University of Bonn in Germany, said, "The terror bird was thought to have used its huge beak to grab and break the neck of its prey, which is supported by biomechanical modelling of its bite force."

The scientists hope to confirm their results with further studies on other fossils.