Dusky Seaside Sparrow – It Was Very Good

Dusky Seaside Sparrow
Dusky Seaside Sparrow, P. W. Sykes

Dusky Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens)

The Dusky Seaside Sparrow was a non-migratory bird native to the marshlands of the St. John’s river and Merritt Island on Florida’s mid-Atlantic coast. The Dusky’s dark coloration and unique birdsong separate it from other seaside sparrows and marked it as a distinct subspecies.

The Dusky was categorized in 1872 and recognized as a subspecies in 1973. Its population saw a rapid decline throughout the 1940s and 50s due to the intense use of DDT on Merritt Island. The Dusky’s population was further damaged when the Island was flooded and then its marshlands drained. By 1979 only six specimens were known to exist.

Dusky Seaside Sparrow
The extinct dusky seaside sparrow, Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens.

The last six specimens were all captured with the hope that the subspecies could be saved through an intense breeding program, but all six of the specimens were male. These male Duskys lived out the remainder of their lives on Disney’s Discovery Island. The last Dusky Seaside Sparrow died in 1987.

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Dodo – It Was Very Good


Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)

The Dodo was native to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean. Despite being the most famous extinct species we know remarkably little about this large, flightless bird. There are no known dodos specimens in existence. Contemporary accounts of the bird describe the taste of their meat and little else.

The few accounts that do describe the bird state that the dodo had greyish or brownish plumage, with lighter primary feathers and a tuft of curly light feathers high on its rear end. The head was grey and naked, the beak green, black and yellow, and the legs were stout and yellowish, with black claws. The Dodo was a large bird, three feet tall and is believed to have weighed anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds!

Dodo skeleton cast and model at Oxford University Museum of Natural History

While Mauritius island was visited throughout human history and the Portuguese had a base on the island in 1507 it was not until 1598 when the Dutch came to the island that the Dodo was first described. In just over 50 years the last sightings of the bird would be recorded around 1662. It was not noticed at the time that the species was extinct. In fact, for many years afterward, the dodo was considered a mythical animal. It was not until the 19th century that its extinction was recognized.

The Dodo’s flightless nature and unfamiliarity with humans, and other introduced species made it vulnerable.  It was easily hunted by sailors and colonists who also began to destroy its habitat. More devastating were the effects of the non-native animals brought to the island. Pigs, cats, dogs, rats, and macaques introduced to the island all thrived at the expense of the Dodo and other native animals. Dogs killed adult Dodos, while the rats, monkeys, and cats preyed on eggs and chicks.

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Chatham Fernbird – It Was Very Good

Chatham Fernbird
Chatham Fernbird – John Gerrard Keulemans, 1873

Chatham Fernbird (Poodytes rufescens)

Chatham Fernbirds were native to Pitt and Mangere Islands of New Zealand. They were a small, long-tailed songbird with reddish above and white below markings, without the speckling found in other fernbirds. Its legs and feet were more robust than those of its mainland counterparts, while its wings were smaller.

The Chatham could reach lengths of around 7 inches, with a wingspan from It reached a length of 18 cm. Its wings were 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches in length. Observers noted that unlike other fernbirds the Chatham had a “peculiar whistle, very like that which a man would use in order to attract the attention of another at some distance.” The bird was insectivorous

Chatham Fernbird
Chatham Fernbird – Canterbury Museum

The Chatham Fernbird was first identified, and killed, in 1868. It was still common on Mangere Island in the 1870s. The last specimen was collected in 1895. By 1900 the species was considered extinct.

A combination of habitat loss, due to the importation of goats on its native island as well as predation from rats and cats, also introduced, is the most likely cause of extinction.

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Chatham Bellbird – It Was Very Good

Chatham Bellbird
Chatham Bellbird – Charles Joseph Hullmandel, 1843

Chatham Bellbird (Anthornis melanocephala)

The Chatham Bellbird is an extinct species of bird endemic to the Chatham, Mangere, and Little Mangere Islands of New Zealand. The Chatham was related to the common New Zealand Bellbird. Chathams were larger than their New Zealand counterparts and had particularly long wings and legs. The head color of Chatham males also was darker. Finally, the bright yellow iris of Chatham bellbirds was completely different from the red iris color of New Zealand bellbirds

The Chatham Island bellbird was green with a short, curved bill, slightly forked tail. Adult males were olive green, slightly paler on the underparts, with the forehead and crown steel blue, changing to a purplish-blue gloss on the sides of the head, nape, throat, and upper breast; the wings and tail were blackish. Females were browner, with a narrow white-yellow stripe across the cheek from the base of the bill, and bluish gloss on top of the head. Both sexes had bright yellow eyes.

Chatham Bellbird
Chatham Bellbird specimens

The Chatham Bellbird was last recorded on Little Mangere Island in 1906. An expedition in the 1930s was unable to find any specimens.

The reasons for its decline are obscure, but a combination of habitat destruction, predation by introduced rats and cats, and over-collection for the museum trade is suspected.

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