Artist impression of a giant parrot

An enormous parrot looms over a St Bathans wren (Kuiornis indicator) in this artist’s impression. The birds, now extinct, lived alongside one another 16-19 million years ago in modern-day New Zealand. Credit: Brian Choo/Biology Letters

Palaeontology

Polly wants many crackers: fossils reveal first known giant parrot

Extinct bird lived in what is now New Zealand and stood roughly 1 metre tall.

A parrot taller than a Saint Bernard dog trod the Earth more than 15 million years ago.

Trevor Worthy at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and his colleagues analysed two fossilized leg bones discovered in New Zealand and concluded that the remains belonged to a parrot that stood roughly 1 metre tall. At some 7 kilograms, it weighed twice as much as the heaviest known living parrot, New Zealand’s kakapo (Strigops habroptila), and was probably flightless. The new species’ scientific name, Heracles inexpectatus, was inspired in part by the mythological strongman Hercules.

Millions of years ago, the islands now known as New Zealand were also populated by very large geese, a huge eagle and giant emu-like birds called moa. The islands’ diverse habitats and lack of predatory mammals may have fuelled the evolution of gigantic birds, the authors say.