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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 Holocene or Late Pleistocene – and before recorded history, or more precisely, before they could be studied alive by ornithological science. They became extinct before the period of global scientific exploration that started in the late 15th century. In other words, this list basically deals with extinctions between 40,000 BC and 1500 AD. 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 giant Haast's eagle attacking New Zealand moa.

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

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 have 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, cats, dogs 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 presented even easier prey.

Taxon extinctions taking place before the Late Quaternary happened in the absence of significant human interference. Rather, reasons for extinction are stochastic abiotic events such as bolide impacts, climate changes, mass volcanic eruptions etc. Alternatively, species may have gone 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 ostrich 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.






The group that includes modern boobies and cormorants.


The group that includes modern flamingos


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

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





  • Placement unresolved
    • Psittaciformes gen. et sp. indet. (Rota, Marianas) – cf. Cacatua/Eclectus?
  • Strigopidae – kakas and kakapos
    • Extinct species of extant genera
  • 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


  • Falconidae – falcons
    • Extinct species of extant genera


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, known from Pleistocene bones, but might have persisted until the Holocene)[19]



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.
  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.
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  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.
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  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.
  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.
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