List of Late Quaternary prehistoric bird species

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Late Quaternary prehistoric birds are avian taxa that became extinct during the Late Quaternary – the Late Pleistocene or Holocene – and before recorded history, specifically before they could be studied alive by ornithological science. They had died out before the period of global scientific exploration that started in the late 15th century. In other words, this list deals with avian extinctions between 40,000 BC and AD 1500. For the purposes of this article, a "bird" is any member of the clade Neornithes, that is, any descendant of the most recent common ancestor of all currently living birds.

Artist's rendition of a Haast's eagle attacking two South Island giant moa

The birds are known from their remains, which are subfossil; as the remains are not completely fossilized, they may yield organic material for molecular analyses to provide additional clues for resolving their taxonomic affiliations. Some birds are also known from folk memory, as in the case of Haast's eagle in New Zealand.

The extinction of the taxa in this list was coincident with the expansion of Homo sapiens beyond Africa and Eurasia, and in most cases, anthropogenic factors played a crucial part in their extinction, be it through hunting, introduced predators or habitat alteration. It is notable that a large proportion of the species are from oceanic islands, especially in Polynesia. Bird taxa that evolved on oceanic islands are usually very vulnerable to hunting or predation by rats, dogs, cats or pigs (animals commonly introduced by humans) as they evolved in the absence of mammalian predators, and therefore have only rudimentary predator avoidance behavior. Many, especially rails, have additionally become flightless for the same reason and thus present even easier prey.

Taxon extinctions taking place before the Late Quaternary happened in the absence of significant human interference. Rather, reasons for extinction are random abiotic events such as bolide impacts, climate changes, mass volcanic eruptions, etc. Alternatively, species may have become extinct due to evolutionary displacement by successor or competitor taxa – it is notable for example that in the early Neogene, seabird biodiversity was much higher than today; this is probably due to competition by the radiation of marine mammals after that time. The relationships of these ancient birds are often hard to determine, as many are known only from very fragmentary remains and complete fossilization precludes analysis of information from DNA, RNA or protein sequencing.

Extinct bird species differed from extant birds by being larger, mostly restricted to islands, and often flightless. These factors made them especially vulnerable to human prosecution and to other anthropogenically related declines.[1]

Taxonomic list of Late Quaternary prehistoric birds[edit]

All of these are Neornithes.


The ostriches and related ratites.


An extinct clade of massive galloansere birds.


The group that includes modern ducks and geese.


The group that includes modern chickens and quails.

True Galliformes


Gulls, auks, shorebirds


The group that includes modern rails and cranes.




  • Ardeidae – herons
    • Extinct species of extant genera
    • Placement unresolved
      • Ardeidae gen. et sp. indet. (Easter Island, E Pacific)
  • Threskiornithidae – ibises
    • Apteribis
      • Maui flightless ibis, Apteribis brevis (Maui, Hawaiian Islands)[8]: 23–28 
      • Maui lowland apteribis, Apteribis sp. (Maui, Hawaiian Islands)
      • Moloka'i flightless ibis, Apteribis glenos (Moloka'i, Hawaiian Islands)[8]: 22–23 
    • Xenicibis



The group that includes modern boobies and cormorants.


The group that includes modern flamingos.


The group that includes modern albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels and storm petrels.

  • Procellariidae – petrels
    • Extinct species of extant genera
    • Placement unresolved
      • Procellariidae sp. (Easter Island, East Pacific) – possibly an extirpated population of an extant species


  • Spheniscidae – penguins
    • Extinct species of extant genera
      • Chatham penguin, Eudyptes warhami (Chatham Islands, Southwest Pacific) – possibly still extant between 1867 and 1872
      • Waitaha penguin, Megadyptes waitaha (South Island and Stewart Island, New Zealand)[11]



  • Mesitornithidaemesites
    • Extinct species of extant genera
      • Monias sp. (Madagascar)


  • Placement unresolved
    • Psittaciformes gen. et sp. indet. (Rota, Marianas) – cf. Cacatua/Eclectus?
  • Strigopidae – kakas and kakapos
    • Extinct species of extant genera
      • Chatham kākā, Nestor chathamensis (Chatham Islands, Southwest Pacific)
  • Cacatuidae – cockatoos
  • Psittacidae – parrots, parakeets, and lorikeets
    • Extinct species of extant genera
    • Extinct subspecies of an extant species
    • Placement unresolved
      • Psittacidae gen. et sp. indet. 1 (Easter Island)
      • Psittacidae gen. et sp. indet. 2 (Easter Island)
      • Psittacidae gen. et sp. indet. (Guam, Marianas) – cf. Trichoglossus/Vini?



Birds of prey

  • Accipitridae – hawks and eagles
    • Bermuteo
    • Amplibuteo
    • Gigantohierax
      • Gigantohierax suarezi (Cuba, West Indies)
      • Gigantohierax itchei (Cuba, West Indies)
    • Titanohierax
      • Titanohierax gloveralleni (Bahamas, West Indies)
      • Titanohierax sp. (Hispaniola, West Indies)
    • Extinct species of extant genera
      • Powerful goshawk, Accipiter efficax (New Caledonia, Melanesia)[12]
      • Gracile goshawk, Accipiter quartus (New Caledonia, Melanesia)[12]
      • Accipiter sp. 1 (New Ireland, Melanesia)
      • Accipiter sp. 2 (New Ireland, Melanesia) – one of the two New Ireland species may be the extant Meyer's goshawk
      • Aquila sp. "large" (Madagascar)
      • Aquila sp. "small" (Madagascar)
      • Borras' eagle-hawk, Buteogallus borrasi (Cuba, West Indies)[13] – formerly in Aquila/Titanohierax
      • Wood harrier, Circus dossenus (Moloka‘i, Hawaiian Islands)
      • Eyles's harrier, Circus eylesi (New Zealand) (Forbes' harrier, Circus teauteensis, is considered synonymous with Eyles's harrier by some authorities)
      • Haast's eagle, Hieraeetus moorei (South Island, New Zealand)
      • A subfossil sea eagle (Haliaeetus) from Maui may be a valid species or a subspecies; another one listed from the Chatham Islands is in error
      • Malagasy crowned eagle, Stephanoaetus mahery (Madagascar)[14]
    • Extinct subspecies of extant species



Nightjars and potoos




Swifts and hummingbirds.

  • Apodidae – swifts
    • Extinct species of extant genera


Hornbills and relatives. Formerly included in Coraciiformes.

  • Bucerotidae – hornbills
    • Extinct species of extant genera


Woodpeckers, puffbird and jacamars.

  • Picidae – woodpeckers
    • Extinct species of extant genera
      • Bermuda flicker, Colaptes oceanicus (Bermuda, West Atlantic) – known from Late Pleistocene and Holocene bones, but may have persisted until the 17th century[19]



Typical owls and barn owls.


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Fromm, Amir; Meiri, Shai; McGuire, Jenny (2021). "Big, flightless, insular and dead: Characterising the extinct birds of the Quaternary". Journal of Biogeography. 48 (9): 2350–2359. doi:10.1111/jbi.14206. S2CID 237285682.
  2. ^ Jain, Sonal; Rai, Niraj; Kumar, Giriraj; Pruthi, Parul Aggarwal; Thangaraj, Kumarasamy; Bajpai, Sunil; Pruthi, Vikas (2017). "Ancient DNA Reveals Late Pleistocene Existence of Ostriches in Indian Sub-Continent". PLOS ONE. 12 (3): e0164823. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1264823J. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164823. PMC 5342186. PMID 28273082.
  3. ^ Miller, G. H.; Magee, J. W.; Johnson, B. J.; Fogel, M. L.; Spooner, N. A.; McCulloch, M. T.; Ayliffe, L. K. (1999-01-08). "Pleistocene Extinction of Genyornis newtoni: Human Impact on Australian Megafauna". Science. 283 (5399): 205–208. doi:10.1126/science.283.5399.205. PMID 9880249.
  4. ^ Mitchell, Kieren J.; Wood, Jamie R.; Scofield, R. Paul; Llamas, Bastien; Cooper, Alan (2014). "Ancient mitochondrial genome reveals unsuspected taxonomic affinity of the extinct Chatham duck (Pachyanas chathamica) and resolves divergence times for New Zealand and sub-Antarctic brown teals". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 70: 420–428. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.08.017. PMID 23994164.
  5. ^ Guthrie, David A.; Thomas, Howell W.; Kennedy, George L. (2000). "An extinct Late Pleistocene Puffin from the Southern California Channel Islands. (Aves: Alcidae)" (PDF). Proceedings of a Fifth California Islands Symposium: 525–530.
  6. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1978). "A paleontological perspective of West Indian birds and mammals" (PDF). In Gill, Frank (ed.). Zoogeography in the Caribbean: The 1975 Leidy Medal Symposium. Special Publication 13. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. pp. 99–117 [106]. ISBN 1422317854.
  7. ^ William Suárez (2020). "The fossil avifauna of the tar seeps Las Breas de San Felipe, Matanzas, Cuba". Zootaxa. 4780 (1): zootaxa.4780.1.1. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4780.1.1. PMID 33055754. S2CID 219510089.
  8. ^ a b c Olson, Storrs L.; James, Helen F (1991). "Descriptions of Thirty-Two New Species of Birds from the Hawaiian Islands: Part I. Non-Passeriformes". Ornithological Monographs. 45 (45): 1–88. doi:10.2307/40166794. hdl:10088/1745. JSTOR 40166794.
  9. ^ van Tets, G.F. (1994). "An extinct new species of cormorant (Phalacrocoracidae, Aves) from a Western Australian peat swamp". Records of the South Australian Museum. 27 (2): 135–138.
  10. ^ Rawlence, Nicolas J.; Till, Charlotte E.; Easton, Luke J.; Spencer, Hamish G.; Schuckard, Rob; Melville, David S.; Scofield, R. Paul; Tennyson, Alan J.D.; Rayner, Matt J.; Waters, Jonathan M.; Kennedy, Martyn (2017). "Speciation, range contraction and extinction in the endemic New Zealand King Shag complex". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 115: 197–209. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2017.07.011. PMID 28803756.
  11. ^ Boessenkool, Sanne; et al. (2008). "Relict or colonizer? Extinction and range expansion of penguins in southern New Zealand". Proc. R. Soc. B. 276 (1658): 815–21. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1246. PMC 2664357. PMID 19019791.
  12. ^ a b c Balouet, J.C.; Olson, Storrs L. (1989). "Fossil birds from Late Quaternary deposits in New Caledonia". Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. 469 (469): 18–19. doi:10.5479/si.00810282.469.
  13. ^ Olson, Storrs L.; Suárez, William (2007-04-20). "The Cuban fossil eagle Aquila borrasi Arredondo: A scaled-up version of the Great Black-Hawk Buteogallus urubitinga (Gmelin)" (PDF). Journal of Raptor Research. Raptor Research Foundation. 41 (4): 288–298. doi:10.3356/0892-1016(2007)41[288:TCFEAB]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 55380044.
  14. ^ Goodman, Steven M. (1994). "Description of a new species of subfossil eagle from Madagascar: Stephanoaetus (Aves: Falconiformes) from the deposits of Ampasambazimba". Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (107): 421–428.
  15. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (2008). "A New Species of Large, Terrestrial Caracara from Holocene Deposits in Southern Jamaica (Aves: Falconidae)". Journal of Raptor Research. The Raptor Research Foundation. 42 (4): 265–272. doi:10.3356/JRR-08-18.1. S2CID 84510858.
  16. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1985). "A new species of Siphonorhis from Quaternary cave deposits in Cuba (Aves: Caprimulgidae)" (PDF). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 98 (2): 526–532. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-09-03.
  17. ^ Holdaway, Richard N.; Jones, Martin D.; Athfield, Nancy R. Beavan (December 2002). "Late Holocene extinction of the New Zealand owlet‐nightjar". Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. 32 (4): 653–667. doi:10.1080/03014223.2002.9517714. S2CID 129691446.
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