Dinosaurs became extinct, penguins survived

This 14 August 2019 video says about itself:

Researchers at Canterbury Museum in New Zealand say they found the fossils of a penguin that stood more than five feet tall.

That was then. And now …

From Flinders University in Australia:

When penguins ruled after dinosaurs died

Chatham Island provides missing link in evolution

December 9, 2019

What waddled on land but swam supremely in subtropical seas more than 60 million years ago, after the dinosaurs were wiped out on sea and land?

Fossil records show giant human-sized penguins flew through Southern Hemisphere waters — along side smaller forms, similar in size to some species that live in Antarctica today.

Now the newly described Kupoupou stilwelli has been found on the geographically remote Chatham Islands in the southern Pacific near New Zealand’s South Island. It appears to be the oldest penguin known with proportions close to its modern relatives.

It lived between 62.5 million and 60 million years ago at a time when there was no ice cap at the South Pole and the seas around New Zealand were tropical or subtropical.

Flinders University PhD palaeontology candidate and University of Canterbury graduate Jacob Blokland made the discovery after studying fossil skeletons collected from Chatham Island between 2006 and 2011.

He helped build a picture of an ancient penguin that bridges a gap between extinct giant penguins and their modern relatives.

“Next to its colossal human-sized cousins, including the recently described monster penguin Crossvallia waiparensis, Kupoupou was comparatively small — no bigger than modern King Penguins which stand just under 1.1 metres tall,” says Mr Blokland, who worked with Professor Paul Scofield and Associate Professor Catherine Reid, as well as Flinders palaeontologist Associate Professor Trevor Worthy on the discovery.

“Kupoupou also had proportionally shorter legs than some other early fossil penguins. In this respect, it was more like the penguins of today, meaning it would have waddled on land.

“This penguin is the first that has modern proportions both in terms of its size and in its hind limb and foot bones (the tarsometatarsus) or foot shape.”

As published in the US journal Palaeontologica Electronica, the animal’s scientific name acknowledges the Indigenous Moriori people of the Chatham Island (Rēkohu), with Kupoupou meaning ‘diving bird’ in Te Re Moriori.

The discovery may even link the origins of penguins themselves to the eastern region of New Zealand — from the Chatham Island archipelago to the eastern coast of the South Island, where other most ancient penguin fossils have been found, 800km away.

University of Canterbury adjunct Professor Scofield, Senior Curator of Natural History at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, says the paper provides further support for the theory that penguins rapidly evolved shortly after the period when dinosaurs still walked the land and giant marine reptiles swam in the sea.

“We think it’s likely that the ancestors of penguins diverged from the lineage leading to their closest living relatives — such as albatross and petrels — during the Late Cretaceous period, and then many different species sprang up after the dinosaurs were wiped out,” Professor Scofield says

“It’s not impossible that penguins lost the ability to fly and gained the ability to swim after the extinction event of 66 million years ago, implying the birds underwent huge changes in a very short time. If we ever find a penguin fossil from the Cretaceous period, we’ll know for sure.”

BACKGROUND: The new species is based on the fossilised bones of five partial skeletons. Another two specimens showed a second larger penguin species was also present on the main Chatham Island but there was not enough material to formally name it. All of the described skeletons were collected between 2006 and 2011 by a group led by Monash University palaeontologist Jeffrey Stilwell. Dr Alan Tennyson from Te Papa Tongarewa the Museum of New Zealand and Professor Julia Clark from University of Texas at Austin were in the group and are also-coauthors of the paper. The species is named after Associate Professor Stilwell with all specimens now cared for by Te Papa.

Artist's impression of the newly discovered fossil penguin

I visited the Chatham islands. But I did not know about that fossil penguin then.

Penguin evolution influenced by islands

This video is the trailer of the film March Of The [Emperor] Penguins.

From Molecular Biology and Evolution journal (Oxford University Press):

New islands, happy feet: Study reveals island formation a key driver of penguin speciation

February 5, 2019

Ever since Darwin first set foot on the Galapagos, evolutionary biologists have long known that the geographic isolation of archipelogos has helped spur the formation of new species.

Now, an international research team led by Theresa Cole at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has found the same holds true for penguins. They have found the first compelling evidence that modern penguin diversity is driven by islands, despite spending the majority of their lives at sea.

“We propose that this diversification pulse was tied to the emergence of islands, which created new opportunities for isolation and speciation,” said Cole.

Over the last 5 million years, during the Miocene period, (particularly within the last 2 million years), island emergence in the Southern Hemisphere has driven several branches on the penguin evolutionary tree, and also drove the more recent influence of human-caused extinctions of two recently extinct penguin species from New Zealand’s Chatham Islands.

“Our findings suggest that these taxa were extirpated shortly after human settlement on the Chatham Islands,” said Cole. “These findings thus potentially represent important new examples of human-driven, Holocene extinction in the Pacific.”

“While our results reinforce the importance of islands in generating biodiversity, they also underscore the role of humans as agents of biodiversity loss, especially via the extinction of island-endemic taxa,” said Cole. As many of the bones were from middens, our results provide direct evidence that our newly discovered extinct taxa was hunted by humans.”

The publication appears in the advanced online edition of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

About 20 modern penguin species exist, from the Antarctic emperor penguin, the forest dwelling Fiordland penguin and the tropical Galapagos penguin. A fossil record of more than 50 species can trace back penguin history to more than 60 million years ago — indicating that penguin diversity may have once been much higher than today.

Using historical skin samples and subfossils from natural history museums, along with blood samples, the researchers performed the largest survey to date, across all penguin taxa.

The team tested their island hypotheses using 41 near-complete mitochondrial genomes, representing all extant and recently extinct penguin taxa. They calibrated their mitogenomic evolution to make an evolutionary clock based on the fossil record.

“By using well-justified fossil calibrations, we resolve the timing and mechanisms of modern penguin diversification,” said Cole.

They found that the two largest-bodied and most polar-adapted penguins are sister to all other living penguins. The DNA evidence also showed that genetically similar penguin species may be at the earlies stages of diversification.

The study provides important new data and perspectives to the debate on the origins of penguin diversity. It will also help better understand the role of islands as drivers of speciation to other animals and marine life.

The new taxa have been named Eudyptes warhami and Megadyptes antipodes richdalei after John Warham and Lance Richdale, pioneers in penguin biology.

Good Chatham Island tāiko news from New Zealand

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Magenta Petrel, 15th January 2016, Sweetwater, Chatham Island

29 January 2016

Two of an estimated population of 100 birds. Perhaps the rarest petrel on earth. The ‘Taiko‘ is the focus of a recovery program centered around Sweetwater camp. The team of conservationists and their conservation work deserve attention.

From BirdLife:

Record breeding season for Chatham Island tāiko

By Kimberley Collins – Fledge Media, Thu, 25/02/2016 – 21:00

This year’s Critically Endangered Chatham Island tāiko breeding season has produced a record number of chicks. 22 birds hatched from 26 eggs, blowing the previous record of 13 chicks out of the water.

The Chatham Island tāiko, also known as Magenta Petrel Pterodroma magentae, is one of New Zealand’s most endangered species, with less than 150 birds left. They were thought to be extinct for almost a century until they were rediscovered by David Crockett in 1978. It wasn’t until 10 years later that the first signs of breeding were found on a remote corner of the Chathams.

Chatham Island Tāiko Trust coordinator Mike Bell is thrilled with the news and says it will be a great step towards protecting these critically endangered petrels. “For a bird as endangered as tāiko – it’s an amazing boost. There are only 26 pairs of these birds in the whole world (the rest are too young to breed), so every chick counts in protecting and building the population.” The breeding season was not without drama as the 22nd chick to hatch was raised as a “foster egg” after it was left by a pair of first-time breeders who laid the egg in the wrong part of the burrow. “We suspect they weren’t ready to breed because they didn’t lay their egg in the chamber of the burrow like usual. It looks like the female literally dumped the egg and left, then the male just stood around outside their burrow and didn’t sit on the egg for about 10 days before going off out to sea.”

One of the Taiko Trust staff members found the exposed egg, put it in his lunchbox, and quickly rushed it over to another pair who were sitting on an egg, which they had previously damaged. “These birds live in a burrow 3 metres deep – it’s completely dark in there and one of the parents could have accidentally stood on the egg or knocked it around a bit. It’s a dangerous life for a seabird egg or chick” says Mike Bell. “We weren’t even sure if the egg was fertile, but left it for a month then put a light behind it to see if there was a foetus – and there was! It was very exciting!”

But the new egg was laid much later than the foster parent’s original egg, so they had to stay in the burrow to incubate the egg for an extra two weeks. “We hoped for two weeks that they wouldn’t give up and stay on the egg. It was quite nerve-wracking. We checked every day to make sure an adult was still on the egg.” Finally the foster egg hatched earlier this week, signalling the final phase of this year’s breeding season. From now, the chicks will stay on the nest while both parents take turns going to sea to forage for food before fledging in May.

“Chick number 22 was a real bonus chick to be honest! Full credit goes to the foster pair for sticking it out and staying on the nest much longer.”

New Zealand eagles

This video is called Girl killed by Giant Haast’s Eagle of New Zealand in 1000 AD.

From 10,000 Birds blog:

New Zealand’s Other Eagle

By Duncan

November 21, 2012

While New Zealand is famous for its endemic oddities, once upon a time New Zealand also had many birds from groups and families that are no longer found here. There were once two species of goose, a merganser, and a pair of raven species. More curious was the owlet-nightjar, an already obscure group to begin with, but made all the more astonishing by virtue of its flightless and ground living lifestyle. The mysterious piopio were recently recognized for what they were, New Zealand’s representatives from the oriole family. And eagles. New Zealand had eagles.

Today, by way of birds of prey New Zealand is somewhat deficient, having a small and attractive falcon and a floppy-winged harrier, and that’s about it. Once upon a time there was a much larger forest harrier, Forbes’ Harrier, and the all-time ultimate bird-of-prey, the Haast’s Eagle. This massive eagle, with a wingspan on up to 2.6 metres, was the largest eagle to grace the world, alive or dead. The species was likely large enough to pose a threat to people, and given its predisposition to attacking two legged creatures, namely moa, it is likely that it may well have prior to its extinction.

There was, for a time, another eagle, but you don’t hear much about it. It’s a curious story, and I’ll relate it here. The other New Zealand eagle was also one described from the fossil record, from the collections of the very same Henry Forbes that the harrier was named after. In the 1950s bones collected by Forbes were identified as being of an unknown species of sea-eagle, and since they were from the Chatham Islands the species was described as the Chatham Island Sea Eagle, Haliaeetus australis. Right from the beginning the species was something of a mystery. The bones of t species were not at all what you’d expect from a New Zealand eagle, resembling the Bald Eagle of America rather than the much closer White-bellied Sea Eagle of Australia. Indeed, while one scientist ascribed the species to an entirely new genus, another commented that it was “not [distinguishable] from the Alaskan race of the Bald Eagle”.

So what was this unique bird of prey? Here’s a hint, no other bones of a sea-eagle where ever found in the Chathams, and Forbes is known to have collected midden material from British Columbia. Yes, the Chatham Island Sea Eagle was just a Bald Eagle, collected in America and misidentified due to poor record keeping.

So why have you never heard of New Zealand’s other eagle? Well, it’s hard to say, but is it impossible that the whole thing was, well, kind of embarrassing?

Chatham Islands tui back on main island


From Forest & Bird in New Zealand:

Popular songbird nests on Chatham Islands mainland

New Zealand’s fifth most popular bird, the tui, has started breeding on the Chatham Islands’ main island after a successful transfer of 14 Chatham Islands tui to the main island earlier this year.

“The locals are over the moon because some of them have never seen a tui – soon they might have these songbirds gracing their gardens,” Chatham Islands resident & conservationist Liz Tuanui says.

“The last time tui were seen in any numbers on the Chatham islands’ mainland was 25 years ago, so anyone under that age is unlikely to have seen or heard tui.”

In what has been described as a world first, tui were transferred from offshore nature reserve Rangatira Island to the Chatham Islands mainland after a grant was given to the Chatham Island Taiko Trust by Forest & Bird’s international partner, Birdlife International.

The Chatham Islands archipelago holds almost 20 per cent of New Zealand’s threatened species and 160 endemic species of insects. Most of these species, however, live on three inaccessible predator-free islands.

Research conducted in the late 1990s estimated the adult Chatham Islands tui population to be about 350 birds.

Liz and husband Bruce started planting areas of their farmland 16 years ago, fuelled by a desire to create a refuge for the Chatham Islands’ threatened bird. More recently, they began intensive pest control.

Pest control is also done in the nearby Tuku Nature Reserve by the Department of Conservation.

Their property is now “dripping with flowers and fruit”, which nectar-eating birds like tui need to breed successfully.

The new immigrants were last seen on the mainland 25 years ago, and have been welcomed with open arms by the locals. Many have even started planting their gardens with fruity and flowery delights to help aid the baby-making process.

“It would be wonderful to have them back in the kind of numbers that people like my mother took for granted. Our Moriori karapuna were known to wake early and sing in high piping voices with the dawn chorus of the birds,” Shirley King from the Moriori Trust says.

Translocation Co-ordinator Mike Bell says that community-led projects like this help to empower people to get involved in conservation.

“The problem with conservation in the Chatham islands is that you’re protecting things you can’t see,” Mike Bell says. “Projects like this require locals to come on board to help with planting and pest control. Since the transfer, I’ve had locals come up to me, and ask me: ‘What can I do to attract tui? What can I plant?’ It’s fantastic.”

Birdlife International recently gave the Chatham Island Taiko Trust funding to transfer another feathery immigrant – the Chatham Islands tomtit – to one of Bruce and Liz’s covenants.

And if everything goes to plan and approval is given, 40 of these endangered birds will be heading for the Chatham Islands mainland next February.

“The Taiko Trust has done such a good job of preserving our unique taonga ,” Deborah Goomes, from Ngati Mutunga O Wharekauri Iwi Trust, says.

The Chatham Island Taiko Trust is a community-based conservation group established more than 10 years ago to help protect the endangered taiko (magenta petrel) and other indigenous wildlife on the Chathams. The group aims to help islanders conserve habitats and birdlife on their properties.


* This transfer was the first time tui have been translocated, in the Chathams or in New Zealand.
* Research by Peter Dilks from the late 1990s estimated the adult tui population on those islands at about 350 birds.
* Chatham Islands tui are one-third bigger than tui found on New Zealand’s mainland.
* Tui were voted the fifth most popular bird in Forest & Bird’s 2009 online poll.
* Breeding of Chatham Islands tui is triggered by flax flowering. In each clutch, 2-4 eggs are laid, and 2-3 broods can be raised in a good year.
* Chatham islands tui were last seen on the mainland in the early 1980s.

Publication Date: October 20, 2009

See also here.

Chatham Islands: Rare birds: here.

A fundamental prediction of life-history theory is that individuals should reduce their reproductive investment per breeding attempt when the risk of nest predation is high. We tested this trade-off in two species of exotic Turdus thrushes in New Zealand (Common Blackbird (T. merula) and Song Thrush (T. philomelos)): here.

Mottled petrel: here.

The largest of the genus, the Antipodes Island parakeet was described as far back as 1831 from a specimen that had been taken to England alive and placed in the Zoological Society’s gardens. After it died, the skin was preserved in the British Museum. According to Oliver, it was this bird which Edward Lear portrayed in his famous folio monograph published in 1832, Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots: the greater part of them species hitherto unfigured: here.

Pakaha, the fluttering shearwater: here.

Westland petrel: here.

The New Zealand storm petrel, thought to be extinct for more than 150 years, has been seen in the Hauraki Gulf and off the Coromandel Peninsula. According to newspaper reports, one of the birds was seen in January and last month (November, 2003) two British ornithologists saw a flock of up to 20 of the birds near Little Barrier Island: here.

Cook’s Petrel: here.

Black petrel: here.

Chatham Islands pigeon fights back

This video from New Zealand is called Chatham Island Pigeon (Parea) hopping – Chatham Island.

From Scoop in New Zealand:

Besieged bird species recovers

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Scientists surveying endangered Chatham Islands parea (Chatham Islands pigeon) last week were were surprised to find that the population had increased to around 500, from a population low of 40 in the late 1980s.

Protection of their habitat through fencing, predator control and covenanting has reversed the decline of parea. The positive survey results could see its threat status being lowered when it is next assessed, Department of Conservation scientific officer Ralph Powlesland said. …

“It’s a 66 per cent increase in the past four years. We counted 234 birds in the core area of the forest (compared with 141 during the previous survey in 2005). When we extrapolated the information we collected over the full area of protection we realised the population was around 500.”

Predation of parea eggs, nestlings and adults by feral cats, and the degradation of some favoured parea food species, such as hoho (Pseudopanax chathamicus), through feeding by feral stock and possums led to a decline in parea numbers during the 1980s.

But their population increased dramatically over the next 20 years, after the forest was protected by fencing to exclude stock, possum and cat populations were controlled to low levels, and forest patches were covenanted by landowners; the Tuanui, Seymour, Holmes and Day families.

Birds [crested pigeons] make a unique “whistling” sound with their wings when they flee a predator in order to alert other members of the flock to the danger, new research shows: here.

Crested pigeons sound the alarm with their wings. Specialized feathers produce high and low tones when the birds flee in a hurry. By Helen Thompson, 1:28pm, November 9, 2017.