Extinct Wildlife

Two endemic birds from Macquarie Island became extinct by the end of the 19th Century: the Macquarie Island Parakeet Cyanorhamphus novaezelandiae erythortis and the Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis macquariensis.

When sealing parties first landed on Macquarie Island, they observed the Macquarie Island Parakeet feeding on invertebrates in rotting kelp on the beaches. The parakeet was described as medium sized (approx 27 cm long), with a bright green head and red cap, yellow or red eyes, and nested in the abundant tussock grasses of the island. It was thought to be a sub-species of the Red-crowned parakeet of New Zealand, other sub-species of which are found on Norfolk Island and New Caledonia. The cover image above shows a Red-crowned parakeet on Enderby Island.

The Buff-banded Rail (Macquarie Island subspecies) was described as 30-33 cm long, with very distinctive streaks or banded markings across its head and chest. Like the parakeet, the rail is considered a subspecies of a more common bird found on mainland Australia and in New Zealand, and other sub-species can be found on islands off Australia including Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands.

Records from the 19th Century suggest the parakeets and rails remained fairly abundant until the 1880’s, despite predation by feral cats, rats and dogs introduced by sealers to the island. It’s been suggested (Selkirk et al., 1990) that the parakeet really went into decline following the introduction of rabbits and wekas (a flightless New Zealand bird) as food for the sealers in the 1870’s. The rabbits were a handy winter food source not just for the sealers but for the cats and wekas – as these predators increased in number they hunted the parakeet and rail to extinction. In 1895 the New Zealand scientist Augustus Hamilton published an account of his trip to the island in 1894, where the sealers he interviewed stated they had seen no sign of the parakeet for at least 2 years.

The Russian Antarctic Expedition leader Thaddeus von Bellingshausen was the first to officially record the parakeet in 1820, and his expedition collected 20 specimens of the parakeet and one live bird which were transported back to the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. There is dispute as to whether some of these specimens made it to other museums, and I have not been able to find an illustration of the parakeet. There are specimens of bones from the rail in the Museum of New Zealand, and more information about both these birds can be found at the links in this page.