15 Extinct Bird Species & Possible Reasons for Their Extinction
The dodo was a flightless bird that uniquely inhabited the island of Mauritius found in the Indian Ocean. The dodo was said to be related to pigeons and doves and was described as being around 3.3 feet tall and weighing about 20 kg. In 1598, Dutch sailors came across these flightless birds on the island and immediately saw its potential for meat, as they were starving by the time they reached land. It was hunted to extinction for its meat that wasn’t that great in terms of taste. Nevertheless by 1681, the hungry Dutch sailors had contributed a big portion in its disappearance, barely leaving a single sign of the dodos existence. Because of lack of any clue that may suggest its existence, it was left forgotten as a mythical creature. This remained as such until the 19th century, when research was conducted on some of the last surviving specimens that had been taken to Europe. From then on, some remains and fossils of dodos were discovered in Mauritius.
2. Tasmanian Emu
The Tasmanian Emu is one of the subspecies of the flightless emu. They were distinguished from the other emu species by their whitish and featherless throats. Although the Tasmanian Emu was reportedly smaller than the mainland emus, the external features and height of the birds were said to have been found in traces of the other emu species. It was found in Tasmania where it gradually separated from the mainland Emu during the Pleistocene (126,000 to 5,000 years ago when much of the world was dominated by glaciations). In contrast to most extinct species, the Tasmanian Emu was not threatened by an already small population size, in fact these animals existed in fairly sizeable numbers. The emus were mostly hunted down and killed as pests. Aside from that, grassland fires also contributed in wiping out this subspecies of emus. Even though it is said that a few of these birds survived in captivity until late 1873, by the 1850s there were no sightings of the Tasmanian Emu recorded.
3. Carolina Parakeet
The Carolina Parakeet was a colorful bird and the only parrot species found in North America. Specifically, it was found in the coastal plains of Alabama and often migrated in large flocks to Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and the areas of the eastern United States. It is described as weighing only about 280 grams and standing at about 12 inches. The Carolina Parakeet was posed to various threats, the biggest one being deforestation that destroyed their natural habitats, making them homeless. Soon when the forests were completely cleared out to create space for agriculture, some farmers shot these birds, considering them as pests that may attack their crops. They were very noisy and often moved in flocks. The Carolina Parakeets had a habit of immediately going to the rescue of wounded ones whose cries could be heard over a mile away. This unfortunately led into the shooting of numerous flocks by farmers and hunters, also leading to gradual extinction. It was also famous for its colorful feathers that were used for many decorative purposes. In the 1930s several unrecorded sightings of the Carolina Parakeet were reported in places like Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. Although how the last of them came to be extinct is still unknown, credit still goes to the numerous shootings and killings which severely reduced the numbers of this bird.
4. Arabian Ostrich
Suggested by its name, this species of ostriches were found in the desert plains of Arabia around the Syrian Desert, regions of todays Jordan, Israel, and Kuwait. Also known as the Middle Eastern Ostrich, this species is said to have been related to the North African or Red Necked ostrich by recent DNA studies. However, the Arabian Ostrich is said to differ from the North African Ostrich by its relatively smaller size and the females have lighter colored bodies. It was popular in ancient Mesopotamia, where it was used for sacrifices and it is shown in various paintings and artwork. Since it was a symbol of wealth, rich Arabian nobles popularly hunted this bird as a sort of sport and it was famous for its meat, eggs, and feathers that were used for making crafts. The Arabian Ostrich became endangered in the period of World War 1. In this period, the use of rifles and automobiles made it easier to hunt the ostriches, sometimes just for entertainment. The population rapidly began to shrink and by the Second World War in the late 19th century, there were no recorded sightings of the Arabian Ostriches. Some of the last recorded sightings of the Arabian Ostrich where in 1928, where it was seen around the borders of Jordan and Iraq, in 1941, where an ostrich was shot for its meat by some pipeline workers in Bahrain, and finally in 1966 where a dying female ostrich was spotted in Jordan at a mouth of Wadi el-Hasa, probably washed away by the flooding of River Jordan.
5. Bachman's Warbler
The Bachman’s Warbler was first discovered by John Bachman, as early as 1832, in South Carolina. This migratory bird was described as being the smallest of any other known warbler. It was identified by its distinct appearance; gray colored wings and tail, yellow belly, and the backside and head are a bright olive color. The males were a shade darker than the females.
Man's influence played a major role in the extinction of the Bachman’s Warbler. Since it built its nests in small edges of bamboo canebrakes in wetlands, it was easily destroyed by swamp reclamation and destruction of forestland. Other causes were ravaging hurricanes and gathering of specimens for museums.
Although the extinction of the Bachman’s Warbler has not yet been announced officially, none have been spotted since the 1960s. The last sighting of this animal was in the western region of Cuba, in 1981.
6. Great Auk
The Great Auk was a large flightless species of penguins living in the North Atlantic's rocky coasts and islands and was believed to be in large numbers in the cold regions of Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Great Britain. It is depicted by the white fur on its belly, its black back, and a thick hooked beak. The Great Auk was about 31 inches tall and weighing around 5 kg. Although the Great Auk was the only said member of the genus Pinguinus to survive till recent times, it eventually became extinct in the middle of the 19th century due to excessive hunting. It was a source of food and also had a symbolic value to the Native Americans who buried the Great Auks bones together with the dead. Even the early Europeans who came to America hunted the Auks for food and used them as bait in fishing.
7. Laysan Rail
The Laysan rail was named after the Laysan Island, a small Hawaiian island that this particular type of rail was native to. Discovered in 1828 by sailors, the Laysan Rail was a flightless bird that preyed on a wide range of food—from succulent leaves to moths and other invertebrates.
The Laysan Rail was well-known for being rather small sized—only 15 cm from beak to tail tip. It had a relatively lighter brown shade of coloration compared to the Baillon’s Crake, which is closely related to the Laysan Rail.
The extinction of the Laysan Rail could have easily been forgone as the oceanic island was filled with a lot of fauna that flourished in the lush vegetation. But extinction was inevitable due to the introduction of domestic rabbits. These rabbits had no predators and so they thrived on the island, feeding on the vegetation and grasses.
In 1891, the already endangered Laysan Rail was supported with conservation efforts when a colony of rails was imported. They prospered for awhile on the island before ultimately dying out due to a rat invasion and human influence. After this, numerous other efforts to save the bird had been set up but all to no avail as the rails expired either due to storms or competition for food.
The last sighted Laysan Rail was seen on Eastern Island in June of 1944.
8. Seychelles Parakeet
The Seychelles Parakeet inhabited a colony of islands in the Indian Ocean. Though it is named after Seychelles, which is the smallest island of Africa, it thrived in the abundant forests of the islands of Mahe and Silhoutte.
It was depicted by its general green plumage, with patches and stripes of blue on the wings, cheeks, and legs. The abdomen was a yellow green and the head was an emerald color. It is often described to resemble the Alexandrine Parakeet, though smaller and without the pink colored stripe found in the collar.
Possibly thought to be a pest, the now extinct species were completely annihilated by severe killings by coconut plantation farmers.
Around the 1880s, the last of the Seychelles Parakeet were sighted and recorded. By the early 1900s, none of the birds were sighted and the Seychelles Parakeet was officially considered extinct.
9. Passenger Pigeon
The story of the now extinct Passenger Pigeon is one of the saddest stories. This abundant bird was wonderfully social and lived in great flocks. It largely inhabited the lush forests of North America before was wiped off the face of this earth in the early 20th century.
The Passenger Pigeon was principally hunted down as a source of food especially when its meat was capitalized in the 19th century as food for the poor slaves brought in from Africa. Due to man’s intrusion of the forests in order to create space for industrialization, the friendly Passenger Pigeons were annihilated and their forests were burned down.
The last actual Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. A song entitled “Martha; the Last of the Passenger Pigeons,” is dedicated to Martha. She must have lived an extremely lonely life with all her relatives forever gone.
10. Mauritius Blue Pigeon
The Mauritius Blue Pigeon, endemic to Mauritius Island, is a striking bird with a pearly white elongated neck, a vivid red tail, and a velvety blue body. Possibly being an omnivore, it was said to feed on fresh water mollusks and fruit.
It was first described in 1602 and the Dutch sailors who landed in Mauritius were glad to have a change in diet from eating the unappetizing dodo meat. Thus, it was largely hunted and eaten, thereby greatly diminishing the numbers of these pigeons.
Other reasons for extinction include the pigeons being hunted as a source of food by refugee slaves, introduction of predators like the Crab-eating Macaques, and destruction of the pigeons natural habitat.
By the 1830s it was easy to conclude that the Mauritius Blue Pigeon had forever disappeared and would never be seen again.
11. Stephen Island’s Wren
The Stephen Island’s Wren was a flightless and nocturnal bird that roved the shrubbery and forestland of Stephen Island. Although this animal was found only on Stephen Island, it was believed to have been prehistorically widespread throughout New Zealand.
The Stephen’s Wren has quite an unbelievable story that tells of its extinction being contributed by one single living thing - the lighthouse keeper’s cat, also known as Tibbles. Even though this particular cat did feed off the flesh of the Stephen Island’s Wren, it could not have annihilated the entire species alone as there were other feral cats on the island. For this reason, the cause of extinction of the Stephen Island's Wren may be credited to the introduction of the feral cat population to the island.
12. Labrador Duck
Already a rare species, the Labrador Duck was a migratory bird that was possibly native to Coastal Labrador in Canada, which was supposedly its breeding ground. It frequently travelled to the southern regions of Long Island and New Jersey in winter. The Labrador Duck was described by its vivid black and white feathered body. For this reason it was also known as the Skunk Duck.
By the 1850s, the already few numbers of the Labrador Duck were deteriorating and the last of them were found in Long Island, New York in 1875 and the specimen was taken to the United States National Museum. The reasons for the extinction of the Labrador Duck are somewhat a mystery. Although it was hunted for food, the meat was rather unappetizing and wasn’t profitable.
The possible cause might have been the encroaching of man on the coastal ecology of North America. Man’s influence might have added harmful changes to the environment through water pollution or dumping of toxic wastes. These changes may have affected the snails and other mollusks that are food for the Labrador Duck, thereby proving hazardous to the species as well.
13. Ivory Billed Woodpecker
The Ivory Billed Woodpecker was a huge bird—said to be the third largest in the world—that was resident to the forest regions of the Southeastern United States.
Nearly at twenty inches in length and thirty inches of wingspan, this bird was said to be the largest one in the United States. The ivory billed woodpecker is generally described as having a shiny blue coat, white markings on the neck and wings, and a triangular red marking on the head. Its ivory colored bill is straight, long, flattened, and hard-tipped.
The numbers of the Ivory Billed Woodpeckers began dropping severely in the 1800s due to habitat destruction. By the 20th century only a few countable numbers of this obscure bird remained. No sightings had been recorded in the mid-20th century and the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was thought to have gone extinct. However, it appeared that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was not totally gone as it was rediscovered in 2005 in eastern Arkansas.
Up to now, it is still vague whether the Ivory Billed Woodpecker continues to exist or has been completely wiped out.
14. New Zealand Quail
Said to be extinct since 1835, the New Zealand Quail thrived in temperate grasslands and open fern lands. This species was brought into the area as a game bird and was wide spread in the south and north islands but they existed in abundance in the south where there were ideal conditions.
The New Zealand Quail became endangered and the population rapidly started decreasing until complete extinction in the 1870s. Causes range from large fires, predation by wild dogs, and also some sources speculate that they may have been affected by the diseases brought in by the introduction of other game birds, possibly other quail species. The Australian Brown Quail was brought in to replace the extinct New Zealand Quail.
15. Laughing Owl
The Laughing Owl was a species of owl of the genus Sceloglaux, which means scoundrel owl, possibly referring to its malicious way of hooting.It was identified by its reddish brown plumage with a white face and deep orange eyes. The Laughing Owl was about 36 cm tall, weighing 600 grams, with the males being of a relatively smaller size than the females.
Originating from New Zealand, the Laughing Owl was said to be plentiful by the time European settlers landed on the island in 1840. Thereafter, it was hunted to gather specimens that were later sent to the British Museum. The exact reasons for extinction of the Laughing Owl are rather mysterious. But the invasion of weasels and stouts might have brought in direct competition for food and thereby wiped out the bird.
The Laughing Owl was popularly known for its crazy maniacal calls that echoed through the forests particularly on dark, rainy nights.
The last sighting of the Laughing Owl was a dead specimen believed to have been found in Canterbury in 1914. But more and more unconfirmed sightings of the Laughing Owl have been reported; in the 1940s a Laughing Owl was spotted in Pakahi near Opotiki, a town found in the North Island of New Zealand.
Another sighting was described in a book about a few American tourists camping out in the forests, when suddenly they’re shaken out of sleep and definitely scared beyond their wits by “a sound of a madman laughing” in the middle of the night. This may have been the last of the Laughing Owls lurking in the forests—we will never know for certain.