Researchers have discovered the biggest parrot ever known—twice the size of its largest modern relative—along a river in southern New Zealand.
The find is based on two fossilized legs of the bird. Neither is complete, but there was enough preserved to identify the bird as belonging to the Psittaciformes order, the group that encompasses all species of parrots, researchers report today in Biology Letters.
The scientists estimate the animal (illustrated above) lived about 20 million years ago and weighed about 7 kilograms. That’s double the mass of the heaviest known parrot, the kakapo, and about the size of the extinct dodo. They have christened it Heracles inexpectatus—Heracles, after the Greek demigod, and inexpectatus because it was an unexpected find.
The researchers say the discovery could provide more insight into the evolutionary history of these birds, and why large, flightless birds once roamed islands across the world.