'Flamingo duck' lived for years after kin died off

'Flamingo duck' lived for years after kin died off

An ancient bird, described as a cross between a flamingo and a duck, has been discovered in Australia, surprising researchers who say it lived for millions of years after the rest of its kind died off.

Fossils of the 'flamingo duck', which is part of the Wilaru tedfordi family, hadn't been seen in Australia before and experts say it could have been evolving into a non-wading bird like ducks, though it still lived in large flocks.

(Willem Syd Merwe)

Dr Vanesa De Pietri from Canterbury Museum, who led the research out of Flinders University, says elsewhere in the world the ancient waterfowl lived from about the end of the age of dinosaurs until about 48 million years ago.

And co-author Dr Trevor Worthy says in Australia they thrived for much longer.

"We discovered its bones in late Oligocene rocks, which makes this bird about 26-24 million years old," he says.

"Wilaru was most similar to the South American presbyornithids, but while it appears to have gone extinct in Asia, North America and South America before 45 Ma, they survived in Australia much longer."

Dr Worthy says it is "remarkable" the birds lived alongside other waterfowl, while in other places presbyornithids lived, geese and ducks had yet to evolve.

The discovery came as a shock, though Australia is well-known to host species whose relatives had died out elsewhere.

Dr Worthy says the discovery adds another piece of the avian evolutionary puzzle and shows how little is currently known about it.

The research was published in the Royal Society Open Access journal today.