Extinct birds, lecture

Great auk and dodo bones, Naturalis

On 25 May 2014, in Naturalis museum in Leiden, there was a lecture about extinct birds. It was by René Dekker. He had brought some rare stuffed birds, usually invisible for the public because exposure to light might damage them. His material at the lecture included the great auk and dodo bones on this photo.

All photos of this blog post are mobile phone camera photos.

The museum has 37 million objects: stuffed animals, rocks, plants, etc. Some of them are very rare extinct bird specimens.

Many of the bird species which became extinct used to live on islands. Often, island birds eventually lost much or all of the ability to fly, as there were often no or few predators on the islands.

For example, the closest relative of the now extinct dodo is today’s Nicobar pigeon. Nicobar pigeon-like ancestors of the dodo flew from Asia to Mauritius island. There they gradually lost their ability of flight. A drought in Mauritius about 4,000 year ago had already been a disaster for dodos. When about 1600 sailors arrived on Mauritius, bringing rats, cats and dogs, that meant soon the end for these flightless birds.

The dodo at Naturalis museum is not real. It is a reconstruction with rhea feathers. There are no dodo feathers left. An Oxford museum has the only bit of dodo skin left. Other museums, including Naturalis, do have bones.

Naturalis has the only Tahiti sandpiper specimen, collected in 1774 during a Captain Cook expedition.

And it has a great auk: there are 80 museum specimens left in the world; two of them in Naturalis.

Other rare extinct birds in the collection: Cuban macaw; Labrador duck; Himalayan quail; and Hawaiian rail.

Passenger pigeon, Naturalis

Another species present at Naturalis is the passenger pigeon. Not a flightless species. Not an island species. Not a rare species: millions used to live in North america. However, even a species like that was exterminated by humans.

More species: Carolina parakeet, formerly in the USA; paradise parrot, formerly in Australia; Delalande’s coua, formerly in Madagascar.

Also from Madagascar, Naturalis has bones of extinct elephant birds. These birds, and their bones, were so big that museum people wrongly put them among elephant bones. The mistake was discovered later.

There are 48 Javanese lapwings at Naturalis, and only two elsewhere in the world.

Passenger pigeon and pink-headed duck, Naturalis

The collection also includes this pink-headed duck.

Pink-headed duck, Naturalis

And a glaucous macaw; probably extinct.

And an ivory-billed woodpecker; also probably extinct.

Spix’s macaw is probably extinct in the wild, but alive in captivity.

Polynesian megapode, Naturalis

René Dekker concluded his lecture with the Polynesian megapode; a non-extinct species, which he himself had helped to prevent from becoming extinct. For many years, these birds were restricted to Niuafo’ou island. That made the birds vulnerable. So, fifty eggs were transported to Fonualei island. Fonualei is a volcanic island, with hot soil, the right temperature for megapode eggs. Being megapodes, the chicks were able to hatch and survive there without parental care. So, a few years later, over 300 megapodes lived on Fonualei.

10 amazing birds that have gone extinct. By Irene Lorenzo, 24 Jan 2017: here.


8 thoughts on “Extinct birds, lecture

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