Ancient parrot in New Zealand was 1m tall, study says

Scientists discover fossils of giant parrot

Scientists discover fossils of giant parrot

But when Ellen Mather, a graduate student researching eagles, took a fresh look at the bones earlier this year, she realized that experts' previous assessment had been wrong.

Paul Scofield, a senior curator of natural history at Canterbury Museum, said the fossil had been excavated in 2008, and initially the team had thought the bones were part of a giant eagle.

This handout picture released on August 7, 2019, by the Flinders University shows the drawing by Dr. Brian Choo featuring a giant-sized parrot that stood more than half the height of an average human and roamed the earth 19 million years ago.

A very big parrot which weighed 11 stone and stood three feet tall once soared over New Zealand, with a massive beak which may have devoured other parrots.

"But until now, no-one has ever found an extinct giant parrot - anywhere". Although the bird's diet is unknown, Scofield noted most parrots today are vegetarian. New Zealand has produced a particularly large number of such species due to its large size, complex ecosystem and lack of predators.

Still, he suspects Heracles is from the family of New Zealand parrots that includes present-day birds like the kākāpō, kākā, and the cheeky kea -renowned for using its sharp mind and beak to steal cigarettes and rip the rubber seals from auto door frames.

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"There are no other giant parrots in the world", Professor Trevor Worthy, a palaeontologist at Flinders University in Australia and lead author of the study, told the BBC.

"But as animals get larger, they become predatory", he said. Scale that up to giant-parrot size and you've got a formidable weapon four inches long, Worthy says of their newly-discovered parrot.

Heracles is yet another example of "island gigantism", the phenomenon where animals isolated on islands evolve to an abnormally large size. As well as the dodo, there has been another giant pigeon found on Fiji, a giant stork on Flores, giant ducks in Hawaii, giant megapodes in New Caledonia and Fiji, giant owls and other raptors in the Caribbean.

Main image: Reconstruction of the giant parrot Heracles, dwarfing a bevy of 8cm high Kuiornis - small New Zealand wrens scuttling about on the forest floor. "We don't know how common it was, what it's related to, how it fits within the story of other parrots", he said. It's a tantalising finding and we'd love to know more about these extinct birds.

A study of the bird was published on Tuesday in the journal Biology Letters.

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