Madeiran Scops Owl – It Was Very Good

Hypothetical Madeiran Scops Owl – Based on close relative – the Eurasian Scops Owl, Wikipedia

Macaronesia is a collection of archipelago islands in the Atlantic off the coast of North Africa. You might be familiar with the Canary or Azores islands, both are part of Macaronesia. These islands are small and isolated. The perfect lab from evolution!

In the last half decade scientists identified fossils on one of these islands, Madeira, as a new type of Scops Owl. This species of owl, Otus mauli, based on skeletal examination seems to be closely related to the the Eurasian scops owl, though having longer leg bones.

Nearly nothing is known about this species. It is believed to have driven to extinction in the 15th century. Probably from the settlement of the island by humans which lead to habitat destruction and predation by invasive species that accompanied humans.

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Laughing Owl – It Was Very Good

Laughing Owl
Male laughing owl mount from the collection of Naturalis Biodiversity Centre

Laughing Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies)

The Laughing Owl, known to the Maori as the Whekau, was a flying bird endemic to the islands of New Zealand (two subspecies, one on the North and one on the South Island.)

The Whekau’s plumage was yellowish-brown striped with dark brown. White straps were across the tops of the shoulders/wings and occasionally the back of the neck. The wings and tail had light-brown bars. The feathers down the legs were yellowish to reddish-buff feathers. The face was white behind and below the eyes, fading to grey with brown stripes towards the center. Males were thought to be more often richly colored, and smaller than females. Average body size ranged from 14-16 inches with wing lengths around 10 inches. The birds were believed to live in open country and rocky outcrops.

Laughing Owl
Laughing Owl, Wellington region, NZ, Henry Charles Clarke Wright, 1989-1910

Laughing Owls might have been in decline before Europeans came to New Zealand. It is believed, land use, collection of specimens, and the introduction of cats and stoats accelerated their extinction. The last recorded specimen was found dead at Bluecliffs Station in Canterbury, New Zealand on July 5, 1914.

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Japanese Sea Lion – It Was Very Good

Japanese Sea Lion – Taxidermied specimen, Tennōji Zoo, Osaka, Japan

Japanese Sea Lion (Zalophus japonicus)

The Japanese Sea Lion was an aquatic mammal endemic to the Sea of Japan, along the coasts of Japan, Korea and even to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Originally believed to have been a subspecies of the California Sea Lion the animal was reclassified as its own species in 2007.

The Japanese Sea Lion was mostly grey furred with males weighing between 900 and 1,200 pounds and having a length of 7 1/2 to 8 feet, larger than male California Sea Lions. Cows were considerably smaller and lighter colored.

Japanese Sea Lion, Kawahara Keiga – Naturalis Biodiversity Center 1823

The animal was driven to extinction in the 20th century, with the last credible sighting being the 1950s. The animal was harvested prior to the 20th century mostly for oil. The sea lions organs were sought after for use in traditional medicine and its whiskers and leather were used as pipe cleaners and leather goods.

There have been talks between the governments of Japan, Korea, and Russia of introducing California Sea Lions into this species’ former habitats but nothing yet has come of these actions.

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Huia – It Was Very Good

Illustration of female and male Huia on a tree branch
Huia, J. G. Keulemans, 1888

Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris)

The Huia was the largest New Zealand wattlebird species. It was a striking large songbird, similar in size to the magpie, mainly black with white-tipped tail feathers. The species was sexually dimorphic, the sexes had dramatically different bill sizes and shapes (as seen in the illustration above.) A fleshy orange wattle hung at the base of each side of the bill.

Pre-human bone remains indicate the birds were common throughout the North Island of New Zealand but absent from South Island. The birds lived in forests and it is believed that they moved seasonally, living at a higher elevation in summer and descending to a lower elevation in winter. Huia were omnivorous and ate adult insects, grubs and spiders, as well as the fruits of some native plants.

The species was regarded by Māori as sacred, and the wearing of its skin or feathers was reserved for people of high status. The birds are also prominent in Māori culture and oral tradition

Mounted Huia, Collection of Museum of New Zealand, purchased 1916

Habitat loss, competition from and predation by introduced species, hunting, and disease have all been implicated in the extinction of the Huia.

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