NZ finds new species of 'ex-parrot'

A new species of parrot, endemic to New Zealand's Chatham Islands, has been identified, but it has been extinct for several hundred years.

Cue the Monty Python dead parrot sketch.

Scientists from New Zealand's Landcare Research department have identified a new species of parrot, from Chatham Islands fossil bones, but it has been extinct for several hundred years.

The Chatham Islands parrot has been officially named Nestor chathamensis and is most closely related to New Zealand's bush parrot, the kaka, according to the paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

The bones were first collected in the late 19th Century. However, scientists didn't know which bird they were from, with suggestions they may have been kea, kaka and even kakapo, says lead researcher Jamie Wood.

His team extracted DNA from one of the bones and confirmed that the species was distinct.

"We suspect a lot of the previous confusion about the identity of the bones may have been due to the unusual proportions of the bird," Dr Wood said.

"It would have looked superficially like a kaka, except its beak was halfway between the short beak of the kaka and the long beak of the kea.

"It also had large thigh bones and a broad pelvis, which suggests it spent a lot of time walking around on the ground."

The DNA work suggests the parrot originated from a kaka that flew to the Chatham Islands around 1.75 million years ago.

It was probably easy to hunt and likely became extinct soon after the first human settlers arrived, Dr Wood said.

The Chathams, population 600, is believed to have been first settled some time after 1300.

The Chatham Islands parrot's fate was predicted by John Cleese in Monty Python's famous 1969 sketch of a man returning his parrot to the pet shop.

"This parrot is no more, it has ceased to be ... this is an ex-parrot."

2 min read
Published 2 September 2014 at 5:08am