World’s largest prehistoric parrot may have been a cannibal

7 Aug 2019

Reconstruction of the giant parrot Heracles. Image: Dr Brian Choo/Flinders University/PA

Palaeontologists have uncovered the fossilised remains of an enormous parrot that once lived in modern-day New Zealand.

Scientists have discovered evidence of a giant parrot that was so large it may have feasted on its feathered friends. Paleontologists said they have named what they believe to be the world’s largest parrot after the Greek hero Heracles.

Standing up to one metre tall and with a massive beak, the bird was capable of eating far more than crackers – maybe even other parrots. Researchers called the parrot Heracles inexpectatus to reflect its Herculean myth-like size and strength, and the unexpected nature of the discovery. Flinders University associate professor Trevor Worthy said: “New Zealand is well known for its giant birds.

“Not only moa-dominated avifaunas, but giant geese and adzebills shared the forest floor, while a giant eagle ruled the skies. But until now, no one has ever found an extinct giant parrot – anywhere.”

Silhouettes of a magpie, person and giant, ancient parrot.

Graphic of Heracles inexpectatus next to an average height person and common magpie. Image: Prof Paul Scofield/Canterbury Museum

Sported an enormous beak

The fossil is approximately the size of the giant ‘dodo’ pigeon of the Mascarenes and twice the size of the critically endangered flightless New Zealand kakapo, previously the largest known parrot.

Scientists from Australia’s Flinders University, UNSW Sydney and the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand estimate Heracles to be one metre tall, weighing about 7kg – the equivalent of an average pug. The giant bird was found in fossils up to 19m years old from near St Bathans in Central Otago, New Zealand.

Prof Mike Archer, from the UNSW Sydney Palaeontology, Geobiology and Earth Archives Research Centre (Pangea), said: “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. Its rarity in the deposit is something we might expect if it was feeding higher up in the food chain.”

He added that parrots in general are very resourceful birds in terms of culinary interests. The finding was published in the Biology Letters journal.

– PA Media