Extinct bird species' fossils are found at Kalaeloa refuge


POSTED: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workers and scientists doing coastal habitat restoration work at Kalaeloa recently discovered fossilized remains, including those of several extinct bird species.

“;The discovery of these ancient bird bones, including several species now extinct and maybe even new species not known before, is a great reminder of the truly unique history and wonderful diversity of Hawaii's birds,”; said refuge manager David Ellis in a prepared statement.

Both the Bishop Museum and the Smithsonian Institution are categorizing and preserving the bones. Although the age of the bones has yet to be pinpointed through the use of radiocarbon dating, scientists noted that bird fossils found at similar sites on the Ewa Plain date to about 1,000 to 8,000 years ago.

The bird bones were discovered while scientists were restoring tidal pools that were once part of the former Barbers Point Naval Station, now the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge-Kalaeloa Unit.

Scientists have found remains of an extinct hawk—the first reported as a fossil on Oahu—a long-legged owl, Hawaiian sea eagle, petrel, two species of crow, Hawaiian finches, Hawaiian honeyeaters and the moa nalo—a flightless gooselike duck.

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“;These fossils of extinct birds give us a glimpse of an earlier time on Oahu when the lowlands teemed with native birds, insects, and plants,”; said Helen James, a research zoologist and curator of birds for the Smithsonian, in a written statement. “;Lamentably, the birds cannot be brought back to life, but by studying their bones we at least gain an appreciation of Oahu's rich natural heritage.”;

According to Sheila Conant, an associate zoology professor at the University of Hawaii, researchers can use fossil records “;to tell us about what it was like before people got here, and what it was like over time as they arrived and as population increased.”;

“;I'm always delighted when someone finds a new fossil, especially when it's something interesting,”; Conant said. “;To know that we had a diversity of birds before people got here is exciting for me.”;

Leonard Freed, also an associate UH zoology professor, added that researchers can use information from the discovery to gain a better knowledge in what types of characteristics shaped their environment.

“;The fossil birds suggest that the characteristics may be shaped in an earlier environment,”; Freed said. “;At minimum the fossils show that the diversity of birds in Hawaii was much greater than what has been documented historically.”;