With an eighteen-foot wingspan and massive beak, the prehistoric, condor-like Aiolornis incredibilis could easily have been inspiration for legends of the Thunderbird in the American southwest. Remains of this incredible bird have been found in what is now California and Nevada, where its modern-day descendants, the California Condor, face extinction of their own due to loss of habitat, lead poisoning from ingesting remains of hunted animals, collection of feathers and eggs by poachers, and DDT contamination.
What’s remarkable, however, is that these condors share territory with a species that very well may have provided roosts for Aiolornis incredibilis in the ancient past.
In the newest illustration for The North American Megafauna Project, Skybreaker, a timeworn bough of bristlecone pine twists, lightning-like, through the skull of Aiolornis incredibilis. Bristlecone pines are extraordinarily long-lived, with individual trees still alive today dating back up to 5,000 years. So it’s not absurd to think that remains of Aiolornis incredibilis may have nourished the roots of one long ago. It’s sobering to consider that the California Condor may become another avian species it has seen come and go.
Skybreaker is available now for preorder as an archival high-quality art print, and will be turned into an original paper taxidermy original as well, the third in my North American Megafauna Project. A portion of the sale of the paper taxidermy original will be donated to the National Parks Conservation Association, to contribute to conservation efforts throughout the US, and if you'd like to learn about current efforts to recover the California Condor population, visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service website!