A new species of an extinct giant parrot was recently discovered in New Zealand, which makes it the largest parrot and the first species of the extinct giant parrot to be discovered anywhere on Earth. It is estimated to be 1 meter tall, named Heracles inexpectatus and is nearly twice the height of Kakapo which is the iconic parrot who was previously the largest known and the fattest parrot. It is named after the Greek hero Heracles for its size and strength and also the unexpected discovery of the bird. The study was published in Biology Letters journal.
Researchers say that it has a giant beak that could crack open almost anything it fancied. It is 7 kilograms in weight as compared to 4 kilograms of the Kakapos. Heracles dates back to around 19 million years and was found in St Bathans in Central Otago, an area in New Zealand well known for Miocene fossil birds and animals.
New Zealand is no stranger to extinct giant birds, which once upon a time housed nine species of moa, the largest of which stood 3.6 meters and a penguin which was taller than a human. Islands create evolutionary novelties in the form of huge flightless birds like the Dodo in Mauritius, elephant birds of Madagascar, giant pigeon solitaire of Rodrigues islands and Australian giant ducks but they did not find a giant parrot before. Trevor Worthy of Flinders University has said that New Zealand is famous for giant birds. Not only moa dominated the avifauna, but the giant geese and adze bills shared the forest floor, while the eagle ruled the skies.
Researchers say that fossils not only represent new genus but reveals another example of evolutionary island giantism in birds. Like the Kakapo, it was a member of the New Zealand’s group of primitive flightless birds which are very different from today’s macaws and cockatoos. Also like Kakapo, it would have fed upon the forest floor although unlike Kakapo, there is a possibility of a huge beak which might have given it an advantage of eating whatever it came across.
Professor Mike Archer from the University of South Wales said that the Heracles, with a massive beak, could crack wide open anything it fancied, and dined on more conventional parrot food, maybe even other parrots. The rarity in the fossil is something expected if it were feeding higher up in the food chain. Parrots are resourceful birds in terms of culinary interests.
Excavations have been going on at St. Bathans site for 20 years providing a fascinating insight into diverse terrestrial fauna that lived in the subtropical climate similar to New Zealand millions of years ago.
Research Paper: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0467