Extinct bird mystery solved, but it creates another

Extinct bird mystery solved, but it creates another

Scientists have described a weird-looking bird -- kind of like a giant turkey -- which was hunted to extinction by humans on what is now known as New Caledonia.

They say the sylviornis neocaledoniae roamed and thrived on the island until around 2500 years ago when it met its demise at the hands of hungry humans.

The bird had been known to science before, but a new study from Flinders University in Australia has scratched further at the surface revealing it had feet more like a chicken than mound-building birds like the Australian brush turkey.

Extinct bird mystery solved, but it creates another

An artist's impression of the sylviornis neocaledoniae (Trevor Worthy et al)

But with one mystery solved, they inadvertently cast doubt on another theory about large mounds on the island which has puzzled archaeologists. It was thought the now extinct birds had created them.

Instead, the researchers suggest they were a result of unusual natural erosion.

The bird was reconstructed by studying the post-cranial skeleton, and stood around 0.8m tall and weighed between 27-34kg.

"I was privileged to study this amazing bird, whose large legs and tiny wings made it look like a turkey on steroids," said Miyess Mitri, from Flinders University.

Palaeontologist Dr Trevor Worthy says looking at its feet in detail made it apparent the bird didn't make mounds as once thought.

"The tell-tale muscle scars showed that the muscles for the toes were weak and the claws were just like those of chickens -- nothing like the mini-spades of mound-builders."

Analysis of the bones suggested it is most closely related to another extinct giant fowl from Fiji called the Megavitiornis altirostris. And both are distant relatives of other land fowl.

These birds were likely to have sat on its eggs to incubate them, rather than bury them like other birds.

The study was published in the PLoS ONE journal today.