Fossil Madeiran owl discovery

This is a video of a white-faced scops owl from Africa.

From Sci-News:

Sat, Mar 24th, 2012

Paleontologists Discover Extinct Species of Scops Owl

An international team of paleontologists has discovered a new species of fossil scops owl, the first extinct bird on the archipelago of Madeira, Portugal.

Twenty years ago, fossil remains of a small nocturnal bird of prey were discovered in Madeira by the German researcher Harald Pieper, but had not been studied in depth. Now, the team has shown that the remains belong to a previously unknown extinct species of scops owl.

A study, published in the journal Zootaxa, suggests that a new species called Otus mauli could be a land inhabiting scops owl that ate invertebrates and “occasionally lizards or birds”.

“It has long legs and wings slightly shorter than the continental European scops owl from which it derives”, said Dr. Josep Antoni Alcover, a co-author on the study and a researcher at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies.

“It is likely that their extinction is linked to the arrival of humans and the fauna they brought with them. Their disappearance formed part of a pattern of extinction of the island’s species, which occurred in virtually all the islands of the world.”

According to the team, amongst the causes of extinction of this scops owl, the destruction of its habitat is highlighted, as Madeira had a lot of serious fires during the seven years that followed the Portuguese arrival. Furthermore, humans brought new birds with diseases that were unfamiliar to the native species, as well as rats and mice that could prey on eggs of animals that had nests close to the ground.

The same or a similar species has been investigated in Porto Santo, another island of the archipelago of Madeira.

“This is extremely interesting,” Dr. Alcover said, “But difficult to assess because the materials found are limited and fragmented. If the scops owls of Madeira and Porto Santo were different species, it would mean that the Otus‘ flying ability is much more limited than continental scops owls. The distance between the two islands would be enough to isolate them.”

The homogeneity of the scops owls’ measurements on the two islands, as well as the differences compared to European scops owls suggests that they were genetically isolated from the European populations. The distance between the continent and the island was enough to explain the difference in the species.

On this island the team expects to discover new species of birds in the near future, which will report a world that disappeared just a few hundred years ago.

“The same thing will happen in the Azores islands where there is already evidence that a scops owl different to the ones in Madeira and Europe that is also extinct,” Dr. Alcover concluded.

10 thoughts on “Fossil Madeiran owl discovery

  1. So do I! From the Precambrian to, in this case, only about 500 years ago. It is a pity this owl became extinct when the Portuguese arrived and cut down the forests where it lived.


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