Around 5 million years ago, in what is now the southeastern United States…a
mysterious newcomer from South America feeds on a primitive horse. The
terror bird was the top predator in its ancestral home. But here in North
America, it has competition from creatures it never encountered before.
At the same time that Titanis was here in North America, there was a small
wolf-like animal called the Edwards wolf…not as large as gray wolves today,
but larger than a coyote.Hunting in a pack, the wolves are there to steal
the terror birds' prey. But this is a challenger they've never seen. They
depend on instinct and spread out.This is a battle for attention – who
can divert the attention of the other combatant and in which direction
and for how long…if you're distracted long enough to have to fight one
wolf, there is not really a chance that you can expend your energy keeping
other wolves at bay. Modern wolves are known for wearing down their targets.
And their prehistoric cousins were likely the same. I think probably the
defining moment is when the Titanis feels like its life is in danger. Once
the terror bird gets the idea that it's, in a sense, outnumbered at the
strategic level…it’s probably not gonna expend its energy over that carcass.
It's probably gonna divert its energy somewhere else.The crisis is critical
for Titanis. As the wolves close in, its attention turns to escape. Neither
side can sustain the tense standoff. And one swift exchange will prove
decisive.Making a willing sacrifice, the wolves prevail.Lesson learned,
the terror bird withdraws, its native intelligence driving it to change
its hunting strategy. So I could certainly see a terror bird, after its
first encounter with a pack of wolves, possibly realizing that it's not
worth the fight…it's gonna lose in the long run; and eventually start developing
avoidance behavior that if it kills something, the wolves come along…it's
probably going to give it up rather than risking itself becoming a meal.