Saturday, March 20, 2010

Extinct Birds

Haven't had much time recently to note recent news, so I'm playing catch-up here.

First, a new biological modeling system is being tested to determine whether it is economically feasible to try and save a species after it hasn't been seen in a while. Recent test subjects include the ivorybill and the dodo. (News source.)

California condors have made a nest in Pinnacles National Monument for the first time in 100 years. (News source.)

Scientists have extracted DNA from the eggshells of several extinct birds (moas, elephant birds, etc.). (Abstract)

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Auk Bones Museum Find

A museum at Glasgow University discovered they had great auk bones in their uncatalogued archaeological specimens. (News source.)

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"Extinct" Tortoise Found in Captivity

Nine captive Galapagos Island tortoises are descendants of an "extinct" species from Floreana Island, according to new genetic research. (News source.)

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Prairie Chicken Extirpation

The greater prairie-chicken is now believed extirpated from Canada. (News source.)

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Falkland Wolf Research

Looks like the extinct Falkland wolf's closest relative was the South American maned wolf. (Eurekalert.)

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Monday, September 28, 2009


Kevin Stewart passed along that Dr. Glen Chilton is currently writing a book, The Return of the Ferret Zombies, on the black-footed ferret (and maybe other rediscovered species?)

But, it also appears that Dr. Chilton has just published
The Curse of the Labrador Duck, about his quest to find all the stuffed specimens of this extinct bird and visit locales formerly important to the species.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Giant Eagle Research

More research on the extinct Haast's eagle of New Zealand.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rediscovered Birds

The Tasman booby, thought to be a now extinct species, has turned out to be a subspecies of the living masked booby. (News source.) [Abstract of paper here.]

Beck's petrel has been photographed in the Bismarck Archipelago, near Papua New Guinea. It hadn't been seen since 1929. (News source.)

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Searching for Lost Birds

Birdlife International is undergoing a project to determine if 47 critically endangered birds are still around, or if they have become extinct. (News source.)

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parasites Lost

This isn't new, but I just ran across mention of this article from 2002, reprinted on biologist Rob Dunn's website, on the lice of the extinct passenger pigeon.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thylacoleo Cave Painting?

An article in Antiquity suggests that a cave painting in Western Australia depicts a marsupial lion.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009


One species, the African lark, appears to be going extinct. (News source.)

Another species, the Honduran emerald, a hummingbird, has been rediscovered in western Honduras. (News source.) [Though, apparently, it's been seen in eastern Honduras a few times in the last few years.]

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Possum Not So Extinct

Recent media reports of the extinction of the lemuroid ringtail possum were "confused," the species is still around. (News source.)

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Extinct Animal Cloned (Then Goes Extinct Again)

The cloning of the extinct Pyrenean ibex was partially successful: a successful clone was born, but the kid died shortly after birth from breathing issues. (News source.)

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Bringing Back the Dead

An article here on the possibility of reviving extinct species.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Rumors of an Extinct Bird

Another article on the search for the South Island kokako in New Zealand.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Extinction Via Pathogen

Two native rat species on Christmas Island were extinct less than a decade after the introduction of the invasive black rat, but it wasn't competition that killed the species off. The black rat carried a pathogen for which the two native rats were not immune... (News source.)

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pupfish Might Go Extinct

The endangered Devils Hole Pupfish might finally go extinct, at least at that location, as the population seems to be declining... (News source.)

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Three Mussels Extinct?

Three mussels formerly found in Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee are likely extinct, according to the USFWS. These include the turgid-blossom pearly mussel, the yellowblossom pearly mussel, and the green-blossom pearly mussel. (News source.)

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Friday, June 06, 2008

NOAA Says Seal Extinct

A review by NOAA says that the Caribbean monk seal is extinct, with no confirmation over the last 50 years. (News source.)


Friday, March 28, 2008

Kokako Search

An alleged sighting of an extinct bird has New Zealand conservation officers off to look for it. An amateur ornithologist claims he saw a South Island kokako from about 20 meters. (News source.)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Barbary Lions Born

Two Barbary lion cubs were born at the Belfast Zoo. The subspecies is extinct in the wild. (News source.)

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Baiji Video

A Chinese man videotaped a large white animal that was swimming in the Yangtze river, central Ainhu province.

"Wang Kexiong, of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said experts at the institute had confirmed the footage was of a baiji."

The baiji, a river dolphin, was believed possibly extinct, as a recent survey failed to locate any. (News source.)

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Monday, May 07, 2007

New Zealand Quail Still Living?

Mark Seabrook-Davison of Massey University is starting genetic analysis on quail found in New Zealand.

The birds found on Tiritiri Matangi Island are thought to potentially be surviving members of the New Zealand Quail, Coturnix novaezelandiae.

The New Zealand Quail was believed to be extinct in New Zealand by the late 1880ís, which means if these quail found on the Island are in act Coturnix novaezelandiae it would mark a rediscovery after over 100 years.

The potential still exists however that these are either introduced quail or hybrids of current species. The genetic testing will be needed for the final confirmation and then conservation controls as necessary.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Alice McKenzie and the Moa

Alice McKenzie was born in 1873, and moved to Martins Bay in the late 1870's. It was there in 1880 at the age of 7 that she saw an odd bird.

Described as bluish in color, her height and with greenish legs the size of her wrists. The bird made a grunting cry as it moved through the scrub. Glanced again in 1889, Alice thought for years she had seen a takahe. Now the takahe was not rediscovered until the late 1940's.

In the New Zealand Journal of Ecology (volume 12, supplement 1989), Atholl Anderson wrote an entry entitled "On Evidence for the Survival of Moa in European Fiordland". In this entry, he outlines a letter written by Alice McKenzie to North Otago historian GB Stevenson in May 1948:

" I was very much interested in your description of the Moa's, and wish to tell you of a very large bird which lived at Martin's Bay. I saw it twice, but many others saw its footprints in the sand, it must have gone about the beaches at night, as its fresh tracks were plainest in the early mornings, generally in July, we thought it probably lived in a large swamp between the sea and Lake McKerrow and when it was frozen it came to the sea beach.

First time I saw it was in 1880, I was 7 years of age. I was along the beach inside the sand hills, there are high sand hilles covered with tussock, inside of them the bush starts, flax grows around the edge of the bush in the sand. I saw this large bird lying beside the flax. I got nearer and nearer, it took no notice of me. I got behind it, and sat down on the sand, it seemed quite round behind, as it had no tail and was the colour of swamphen blue - I put a hand under it and drew out one of its legs, it was as thick as my wrist, and covered with dark-green scales, I thought I'd tie it up, so split a blade of flax and started to tie it around the birds legs, then it got up and making a harsh cry went for me. I went over those sand hills like a red shank, the bird after me for a short distance. I can't remember if it had wings, but I don't think so, when it went for me the feathers round its neck stood out like a ruff. I think if it had wings I would have noticed. I ran home and told of the huge bird which chased me. Mother thought I was exaggerating, but I persuaded Father to come and see where it had been, he saw its tracks where it went after me, he had a foot rule in his pocket and measured the feet 11 inches from heel to middle toe, its feet were three toes like a hen, he recorded it in his diary, but some allowance could be made for the feet sinking in the dry sand, and may have seemed larger than they were.

For years then we saw its tracks in the winter, 10 years after I was driving some cattle from the Kaipo River to Martins Bay, coming round a rocky point I saw the cattle standing on the sand beach looking startled toward the bush. I looked and saw a blue object disappearing into the scrub, it looked like a mans navy blue coat, and I felt very frightened as there were prisoners working at Milford Sound at the time, and was afraid it was one of them, however I had to pass the place to get home, then I saw the large birds tracks taking long strides towards the place I saw it entering the bush. I did not try to look for it, my early experience was too fresh in my memory..."

Alice's memories, through a series of journals written over the years, was first published in 1947. Reprinted as a 2nd edition in 1952, her story then came to light (after first appearing in the Otago Daily Times of July 1947). Now, in 2007, Alice's grand-daughter Alice Margaret Leaker has compiled a new edition of Pioneers of Martins Bay that is being published by Arrowtown's Lakes District Museum.

Now the moa is officially extinct, being gone since the 12th century, with some lingering possibly into the 1500's. There have been reports of moa like birds throughout the years, including a number in the 19th century. The most "popularized" account coming in 1993 when Paddy Freaney and two others reported seeing a 2-meter bird and snapping its picture (the picture is not distinct however, and the account is still debatable).
So did Alice McKenzie really see a Moa? Or something else?

Paddy Freaney's picture from 1993

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Book: Great Auk

For those interested in extinct species, I've just published a non-facsimile reprint of Symington Grieve's The Great Auk, or Garefowl. First printed in 1885, this was a thorough investigation of the known facts surrounding that large flightless bird through records, journals, and natural history collections. Further information is at

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kokako Oldies

With the recent declaration (re-declaration actually) of the South Island Kokako being extinct in New Zealand by the DoC, it is only fitting to share some "older" accounts not often referred to. So, enjoy a few from the files:

Volume 13, Number 4, December, 1966


Late in January 1961 and early in the morning I entered the bush on the Nelson slope of the Mangatapu Saddle on the old road from the Maitai Valley to Pelorus Bridge. Shortly I was attracted by the loud calling of a bird which I located on the trunk of a large beech tree about 18 feet from the ground. The bird did not seem to notice me at all, so that I was able to watch it for some minutes before pouring rain drove me on. There was movement in an adjoining tree, and I was aware of what I think was a young bird; but it was the
adult which interested me. It invariably moved upwards in short springing hops; and tapped its beak on the branch, left and right. I think it was urging the young bird to join it. It called loudly all the time I was within hearing distance.

It looked about the size of a Tue. I never saw its breast or under its wings. A yellowish colour was noticeable about its face; and its back which it kept in view even when it sprang on to a branch and proceeded up it, was, I think, brownish green. It was most active all the time I was watching it. I have tried to identify it on various occasions since, but it was only when I overheard a fellow-camper at a Forest and Bird Camp at Waikaremoana mention the characteristic up-ward springing climb of the Kokako that I had a clue to its identity. There is no doubt in my mind that the bird I watched below the
Maungatapu Saddle was a South Island Kokako (Callaeas c. cinerea).
- H. E. READ

[Mrs. Read has discussed this incident with me. There seems to be no reason to doubt the accuracy of her identification; especially ,as the South Island Kokako has since been reported near Picton. - Ed.]

Volume 28, Part 4, December, 1981

(Callaeas cinerea cinerea) IN MOUNT ASPIRING NATIONAL PARK

For several years from about 1957, I went down to Mt Albert Station, then owned by Mr John Quaife, to help with the autumn cattle muster, usually in late March and early April. The calves duly weaned and the sale lot on their way to Cromwell, I would go up into the Teal Creek valley for a few days of deer shooting. The track, a seldom-used blazed trail, led steeply up the north side of the valley through thick silver beech forest with little understorey and a scattering of totara.

As I climbed and returned I would always come upon areas of the mossy forest floor that had been recently disturbed, and rotting tree trunks and branches that had been picked at and underdug. I suspected kaka but saw no other sign.

On my visit to Teal Creek in 1964, I heard what I described to my hosts as a rather exalted Tui, followed by the harsh and prolonged cry of a falcon, then silence. Mrs Quaife, who had heard of their possible previous existence in the area, suggested Kokako, but I didn't give much credence to it.

The following year, still intrigued by the "ploughing," I took more care to travel quietly and, on my way down, spent an hour or so just listening. I was rewarded by hearing the same Tui-like sounds from two different directions, and did see movement of what appeared to be a largish bird in the tree tops from whence one song came. Again a falcon came screaming down the valley and all sounds ceased.

The next year (1966), I missed the muster and paid my visit in early May. I was coming quietly down the trail and stopped to ease my shoulders by resting my pack, which was loaded with venison, on a convenient rock. Presently, I realised I was looking straight at
a strange bird perching on a branch 15-20 metres away. It was just below the canopy of a beech downslope from me, about 15 metres above the ground but horizontally only about 3 metres above me. It seemed to be quietly singing to itself as its head and beak were
constantly moving and I heard an occasional note, but with a gusty wind rustling the leaves and the river roaring below, it was hard to tell if the song was continuous. The light was not good, but I could see detail quite well. It was facing directly towards me, the tip of its tail visible below the 10-cm-thick branch. It was dark grey with jet
black head and beak. One could imagine it was wearing a mask ! Its wattles, which were quite prominent, were putty coloured, just a light fawn, but it was undoubtedly a Kokako.

I tried to ease out of my pack straps to get at my camera, but, the bird immediately hopped into the upper branches and disappeared. I was fairly sure I heard a snatch of song from another direction, but just then a falcon screamed down near the river and, apart from an occasional call from that, I heard nothing more. The position was
NZMS 1 Map S107 Grid 968687.

The following year (April 1967), I was within 400 metres of the previous sighting, and close to a patch of " ploughed" ground which I had seen on my way up the valley about six days before. It was a fine afternoon, no wind, the only sound being the roar of the
river just below. I had stopped to listen, propped against a tree for only a few minutes, when a Kokako appeared walking along a log which protruded from a thick patch of fern beside a patch of "ploughed" ground. I think it saw me immediately because it quickened
its pace, flew from the end of the log to a sloping tree trunk a short distance below, and began to climb the trunk in a most peculiar way. With each rather ungainly step upwards, it appeared to hold on to the bark with its beak, look in my direction, take another step, hold, look, and so on until it reached the branches, when it hopped rapidly out of sight. I was fairly certain I saw two largish birds moving in the canopy nearby, but as a small flock of parakeets was moving through just then, I could not be sure. I had to hurry on then, as it is not a place one would care to be benighted in.

The following day I took Mrs Quaife up to the spot, but in 3-4 hours we saw and heard nothing except the inevitable falcon.

I had informed the resident park ranger at Wanaka of my sighting the previous year, and again jogged his memory. The Park Board eventually flew in a hut to a nearby clearing, and spent some time in an unsuccessful search.
My next and last trip (1968) was also without sighting except of the falcon.

K. McBRIDE, Kawarau Downs, RD4, Kaikoura

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