25FT Wing SPan

Pelagornis sandersi

The Color of Mud has been commissioned to build a 24 ft. wingspan prehistoric bird model, by the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Pelagornis will be hung in their new soon to be built, Jean S. Adams Education Pavilion. This will be first ever life-sized model of Pelagornis Sandersi.

If we had lived 3 million years ago, our holiday beach visits would not have been so pleasant. North American ocean fronts were home to Pelagornis sandersi, the largest known marine bird. It had a wingspan of up to 24 feet. For comparison, imagine the length of four humans head-to-toe, or the height of a two-story building. If its size isn’t terrifying enough, the bird also had pseudoteeth—all the better to impale its prey with.

The first P. sandersi fossil was found in 1983, when crews in South Carolina began construction to expand the Charleston International Airport. Charleston Museum volunteer James Malcom and museum curator Albert Sander removed a stone block containing the fossil and brought it to the museum for further inspection. (The sandersi in the species name is a homage to Sanders.) Nearly 30 years later, paleontologist Daniel Ksepka rediscovered it when he was invited to study the Charleston Museum’s fossils. “I was pretty confident it was a new species right away,” says Ksepka. “The size jumps out at you. I found a single wing bone longer than my arm, so I thought, this must be important.” Ksepka’s results are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pelagornis.jpg: Ryan Sommaderivative work: Haplochromis, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Build

A small scale model of Pelagornis Sansersi was sculpted by Jennifer Buckingham using a scaled down 3d print of the fossil for the skull to build upon, and scale models on paper to be sure everything scaled correctly. We used the cloth for the feathers and such to get an idea of the texture we intend to create.

3D print of both life sized and scale model size.

Next it was 3D scanned and the file used to create a metal frame within the structure. Mike of course does the building of the frame in the 3d file model and the 27x larger version he welded together.


We are using pink insulation foam 2” to build up the meat and then J. Leigh (Jennifer Buckingham) will begin sculpting the finer details onto her.



We have been building feathers…soo many feathers and the last step will be to add her pin feathers one by one. Each crafted from cloth then placed overlapping each other and set in a waterproof wood glue.



We will be adding to this page as we continue this build, including some videos and all that jazz of the build! Stay tuned!

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