Birds of various islands

Skeleton and model of a dodo, 'Raphus cucullatus,' a flightless brownish-gray bird about three feet tall with a thick hooked bill, featherless face, white fluffy tail, and white stubby wings; Oxford University Museum of Natural History Elephant bird 'Aepyornis maximus,' a large ostrich-like bird, ten-feet tall, with a crest that falls to the back of its head Upland moa 'Megalapteryx didinus' a heavy ostrich-like bird with white-tipped feathers; painting by George Edward Lodge Haast’s eagle 'Hieraaetus moorei,' with wings and claws outstretched to attack two brown moa; painting from John Megahan Pencil sketch by Jossigny of the Mauritius owl 'Mascarenotus sauzieri' with its long neck, flat head, and feathered ears Broad-billed parrots 'Lophopsittacus mauritianus,' with a large head and beak, and a crest of short feathers at the base of its beak Restoration of the Mascarene grey parakeet 'Psittacula bensoni,' a gray parakeet with a red bill, from J. P. Hume Photo of a stuffed female Mauritius Blue Pigeon 'Alectroenas nitidissimus' in the national museum of Scotland, with white head and neck feathers, blue body and wings, and sienna tail feathers Mascarene coot 'Fulica newtoni' a large dark-gray waterbird with red eyes, white bill and frontal shield, and broad toes without webbing; illustration from Alphonse Milne-Edwards Male laughing owl 'Sceloglaux albifacies,' a brown feathered (light brown and dark brown feathers alternating) with white feathers about its eyes and on its legs and claws, mounted at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre Stephens Island wren 'Xenicus_lyalli,' olive-brown bird, with a yellow breast and a yellow stripe above its eye; illustration by John Gerrard Keulemans


Go ahead and make fun of the bird with the uncomplimentary name and call dimwits “dodos.” Dutch sailors called them “sickly birds” but ate them anyway. They could neither fly nor swim, and had no fear of humans. Humans devastated the forests on Mauritius and introduced dogs, pigs, cats, and rats to the island which drove the dodos and other species endemic to the island to extinction. Which was the dodo? Was it this defenseless bird, or was it our own species?

Elephant bird

Three genera and eight species of elephant birds occupied Madagascar before the 17th century. They could not fly, attaining weights of sixteen hundred pounds, and were likely nocturnal or crepuscular, living peacefully as far back as 10,000 BCE. Either they were endangered by forest clearing and exterminated by hunting, or they picked up diseases from domestic fowls, but they disappeared a thousand years ago.


Moa probably carried their heads in front of them eating low plants not as usually shown with their necks like giraffes reaching toward the sky. Nine species of Moa grazed New Zealand attaining weights of 510 pounds, and were preyed upon by the monstrous Haast’s eagle until the Māori arrived after which they declined precipitously until they were gone by 1445 entirely.

Haast’s eagle

The pouakai of Māori legends could bring down the 500-pound moa but the Maori burned forests and scrublands, and killed all its prey.

Mauritius owl

Two feet long, this owl survived the introduction of rats, cats, and macques to the island of Mauritius, but struggled to survive after tea and sugarcane plantations displaced the habitats it depended on. Also, people recklessly shot them for sport.

Broad-billed parrot

The broad-billed parrot lived only on the island of Mauritius sporting red feathers with blue heads, we think, growing up to two feet long and cracking the shells of palm nuts with their broad, curved red beaks. In captivity, they would not eat.

Mascarene grey parakeet

The small grey parrot with a red beak and long tail, lived on Mauritius and Réunion. When one was captured, it could be squeezed to have it call the rest of its flock to be killed.

Mauritius blue pigeon

In the forests of Maritius flew a large pigeon with a white ruff. The red forehead of the male accentuated its regal mien. After Maritius became Isle de France, people removed its forests and hunted the struggling pigeons because they were good to eat. They were so unafraid of people that hunters knocked them down with sticks.

Mascarene coot

This big black coot with its red eyes and white bill and crest could fly but may have preferred to dive when threatened until destruction of its marshlands left it nowhere to hide.

Laughing owl

This boobook owl of New Zealand with its mischievous, maniacal call was plentiful when settlers arrived but mostly extinct by 1914. The laughing owl could handle Pacific and European rats but not the stoats introduced to control feral rabbits and cats.

Lyall’s wren

Once found throughout New Zealand, the small flightless wren, Lyall’s wren, Stephens Island wren, with its yellow breast and yellow stripe above its eye was extirpated everywhere but on Stephens island where the lighthouse keeper’s cat Tibbles and the island’s numerous feral cats eliminated it entirely.