World's largest parrot lived in New Zealand 19 million years ago
A handout drawing made available by the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 7, 2019, shows a reconstruction of the giant parrot Heracles, in the picture dwarfing a bevy of 8 cm high Kuiornis – small New Zealand wrens scuttling about on the forest floor. EPA-EFE/UNSW/ Brian Choo, Flinders University HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Sydney, Australia, Aug 7 (efe-epa).- The world's largest parrot, which was nearly 1 meter (3.3 feet) tall and weighed around 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds), lived about 19 million years ago in New Zealand – an area renowned for its prehistoric giant birds – according to a study published in Australia on Wednesday.
The extinct bird has been named Heracles inexpectatus, in an allusion to its Herculean myth-like size and strength, the Sydney-based University of New South Wales said in a statement.
"Heracles, as the largest parrot ever, no doubt with a massive parrot beak that could crack wide open anything it fancied, may well have dined on more than conventional parrot foods, perhaps even other parrots," Mike Archer, a professor at the UNSW, said.
As another example of giant birds placed high up in the food chain, Archer cited New Zealand's famed keas – a modern species of large parrots measuring up to 48 centimeters (19 inches) in height – who "have even developed a taste for sheep since these were introduced by European settlers in 1773.”
The experts pointed out, however, that 20 million years ago there were no large mammals in New Zealand and that, like most parrots, Heracles probably feasted mainly on plants.
The giant parrot lived in a diverse subtropical forest where many species of laurels and palms grew alongside podocarp trees, which "provided a rich harvest of fruit important in the diet of Heracles and the parrots and pigeons it lived with," said Suzanne Hand of the UNSW.
The parrot was found near St Bathans at the southern tip of New Zealand's South Island among fossils dating back 19 million years.
The site, which is known for its collection of fossils of birds from the Miocene period, is the only window into a prehistoric habitat with land animals and birds that lived in New Zealand after dinosaurs went extinct some 66 million years ago.
“We have been excavating these fossil deposits for 20 years, and each year reveals new birds and other animals," said paleontologist Trevor Worthy of Australia's Flinders University.
New Zealand is known for its giant birds, including the extinct ostrich-like moa (which reached about 3 m in height) and giant geese, among other large non-flying species that lived in the island's forests.
"But until now, no one had ever found an extinct giant parrot – anywhere," explained Worthy, who took part with other experts from the UNSW Sydney and Canterbury Museum in New Zealand in this study that was published in the scientific journal Biology Letters. EFE-EPA