Petrochelidon ariel (Gould)

Fairy Martin (Petrochelidon ariel)

The Fairy Martin is native to Australia, where it inhabits open country near water, and is usually seen near its nest sites in cliffs, culverts, or bridges. The birds nest in colonies, the nests are distinctive large bottle-shaped constructions of mud pellets, built against the wall or ceiling of a cave, a cliff, or a building. [1]


The Fairy Martin is mentioned here because it appears to have bred, at least one time, in New Zealand (two distinctive bottle-shaped nests were found in shed near Lake Wairarapa in the 1970s).

The species increasingly wanders to New Zealand, and it may again breed there in the future. [1]



[1] B. D. Heather; H. A. Robertson; D. J. Onley: Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Oxford University Press, USA 1997



Photo: Jim Bendon

(under creative commons licence (2.0))

Acrocephalus aequinoctialis (Latham)

Kiribati Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus aequinoctialis)

The 16 cm long Kiribati Reed-Warbler is the only (recent) resident passerine bird in Kiribati, all other passerines possibly seen there are winter visitors.

The species can be split into two subspecies (in fact they may even represent three – but this need further investigation), both show a grey and white plumage and differ only slightly from each other.

The Kiribati Reed-Warbler was first described in 1790 from the giant atoll of Kiritimati, where its total population today is estimated at only 300 to 400 birds.

Another form was discovered in 1881 on the small atoll of Tabuaeran, 224 km northwest of Kiritimati, it was described as a distinct subspecies (Acrocephalus aequinoctialis ssp. pistor Tristram) in 1883, but was last seen in the year 1924, and is now considered extinct.

Again, another form was discovered in 1921 on the island of Teraina, 120 km northwest of Tabuaeran, and this was subsequently assigned to the ssp. pistor (but may indeed by a distinct third subspecies).

In Kiribati this bird is called bokikokiko resp. kokikokiko.



Tabuaeran Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus aequinoctialis ssp. pistor)

Depiction from: ‘H. B. Tristram: On the Position of the Acrocephaline Genus Tatare, with the Descriptions of two new species of the Genus Acrocephalus. The Ibis 5(1): 38-46. 1883′

Alopecoenas nui (Steadman)

Giant Ground Dove (Alopecoenas nui)

The Giant Ground Dove is known only from subfossil bones which were found on the islands of Mangaia, Cook Islands; Kamaka, Gambier Islands; Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Ua Huka, Marquesas as well as Huahine, Society Islands.

The species was sympatric on the Cook-, Gambier- and Society Islands with the smaller Polynesian Ground Dove (Alopecoenas erythroptera (Gmelin)) and on the Marquesan Islands with the Marquesas Ground Dove (Alopecoenas rubescens (Vieillot)), and perhaps with additional, yet extinct species.

The Giant Ground Dove was no true giant, but was still larger than all its Polynesian congeners, reaching a size of about 36 cm.



[1] David W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University Of Chicago Press 2006
[2] Jean-Claude Thibault; Alice Cibois: From early Polynesian settlements to present: bird extinctions in the Gambier Islands. Pacific Science 66(3): 1-26. 2011
[3] Knud A. Jønsson; Martin Irestedt; Rauri C. K. Bowie; Les Christidis; Jon Fieldså: Systematics and biogeography of Indo-Pacific ground-doves. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 59: 538-543. 2011

Pomarea fluxa Murphy & Mathews

Eiao Flycatcher (Pomarea fluxa)

The Central Polynesian flycatcher species are all restricted to native forests, they inhabit small territories, which they aggressively defend against congeners, including their own offspring.

All these species lay only a single egg, which, of course, is very vulnerable to predation by introduced rats.

The few still existing species are all close to extinction, and perhaps many species are already extinct without leaving even a single trace of their former existence! The islands of Aitutaki, ‘Atiu, Mangaia, Ma’uke, Miti’aro, and Rarotonga in the Cook Archipelago for example, as well as Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti, Mo’orea, Ra’iatea, Tahiti, and Taha’a in the Society Archipelago may once all have had local species of the genus Pomarea, yet only three of them are definitively known!


This species, the Eiao Flycatcher, as its name implies, inhabited the island of Eiao in the north of the Marquesas Archipelago. It was described in the year 1928, and was considered a subspecies of the Iphis Flycatcher (Pomarea iphis (Murphy & Mathews)) from the island of Ua Huka for a long time, which, in a geographical context, makes not much sense.

The bird reached a size of about 17 cm, the sexes differed in their coloration, the males had a black head and neck and black wings, the back and the throat were mottled black and white, while the females were brownish above and whitish below, with the throat heavily streaked brown.



[1] H. D. Pratt; P. L. Bruner; D. G. Berrett: A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press 1987

Nesofregetta fuliginosa (Gmelin)

Polynesian Storm-Petrel (Nesofregetta fuliginosa)

This species is endemic to the tropical Pacific, where it breeds from parts of Melanesia (Vanuatu) well into East Polynesia, for example on the Gambier Islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

From the Cook Islands and on Rapa Nui, however, it is known only from subfossil remains.

The Polynesian Storm-Petrel is an about 25 cm large seabird, of which several color morphs are known to exist, which were formerly considered to represent distinct species. A remarkably dark morph (the Samoan Storm-Petrel) seems to be restricted to Samoa.

The bird is known in Polynesia by several different names, including kitai on the Marquesas, korue on Tahanea in the Tuamotu Archipelago, taio in Samoa, and te bwebwe ni marawa on the Phoenix Islands of Kiribati.



Photo: Angela K. Keppler; by courtesy of Angela K. Keppler

Megavitiornis altirostris Worthy

Deep-billed ‘Megapode’ (Megavitiornis altirostris)

This enigmatic extinct species, described in 2000 from subfossil remains, is in fact not a megapode but a member of a not well known family, the Sylviornitidae, whose only other member is the likewise enigmatic and extinct New Caledonian Giant ‘Megapode’ (Sylviornis neocaledoniae Poplin) from New Caledonia.

The Deep-billed ‘Megapode’ was a large, flightless bird, that probably fed particularely on plants and invertebrates, and is so far known only from the island of Viti Levu, Fiji.

The species of course was a very rewarding target for the first human settlers and hunters on the Fijian Islands, and thus was very fast wiped out by them. [1][2]



[1] David W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University Of Chicago Press 2006
[2] Trevor H. Worthy; Miyess Mitri; Warren D. Handley; Michael S. Y. Lee; Atholl Anderson; Christophe Sand: Osteology supports a stem-galliform affinity for the giant extinct flightless bird Sylviornis neocaledoniae (Sylviornithidae, Galloanseres). PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150871. 2016


edited: 22.04.2016

Charmosyna amabilis (Ramsay)

Red-throated Lorikeet (Charmosyna amabilis)

This small, mainly green colored bird is deemed to be the rarest parrot of the Fiji Islands, where it formerly inhabited the islands of Ovalau, Taveuni, Vanua Levu, and Viti Levu.

The bird reached a size of 18 cm, its biology is virtually unknown, the same applies for its breeding behavior, the size of the clutch and similar data.

The Red-throated Lorikeet is, resp. was known to the natives of the Fijian islands by several names, including Mihi (?), Kula, Kulawai, and Talaki ni medra wai na kula.

The species was last found only in the higher regions at Mt. Tomanivi on the island of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian Islands, where it was last recorded in the year 1993.

The Red-throated Lorikeet is now most probably extinct.



[1] E. L. Layard: Notes on the Birds of the Navigators’ and Friendly Islands, with some Additions to the Ornithology of Fiji. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 490-506. 1876
[2] H. Douglas Pratt, Phillip L. Bruner, Delwyn G. Berrett: A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press 1987
[3] Tony Juniper; Mike Parr: Parrots; A Guide to Parrots of the World. Yale University Press 1998
[4] David W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University Of Chicago Press 2006



Depiction from: ‘G. D. Rowley: The Birds of the Fiji Islands. Ornithological Miscellany 1: 259-262. 1876’

Egretta sacra (Gmelin)

Pacific Reef-Egret (Egretta sacra ssp. sacra)

The Pacific Reef-Egret is an about 60 cm large, rather short-legged egret, that lives predominantly in coastal areas.

The birds occur in mangrove-filled estuaries or along rocky shores, where they feed on small fish, mollusks and crustaceans.

The nominate race of this species occurs from South and Southeast Asia to Australia and into almost the whole pacific region (with the exception of New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where the ssp. albolineata (G. R. Gray) occurs).

In some regions of Polynesia the Pacific Reef-Egret is nowadays the only surviving of the native bird species.

There are three color morphs, dark slate grey colored birds, pure white birds as well as an intermediate phase that is mottled white with dark slate grey. It is a somewhat strange fact, that in some areas, for example New Zealand and Samoa, only birds of one of these morphs (in both cases the dark morph) are breeding, while in other places all three morphs live together.



Photo: Phil Swanson; by courtesy of Ross Silcock

Drepanis coccinea (Forster)

Iiwi (Drepanis coccinea)

The Iiwi belongs to the group of the so called drepanidine finches, a radiation of the Finch family, which is distributed exclusively on the Hawaiian archipelago and which has produced at least seventy species, of which, however, most have unfortunately been extirpated nowadays.

Even the Iiwi, which in the 20th century was still one of the most common of the surviving drepanidine finches, and which occured on all of the Hawaiian main islands, is now rare and has actually already disappeared from some of the islands (Lana’i, Ni’ihau).

The bird, which particularly feeds on nectar, is about 15 cm long and therefore belongs to the middle sized species within the group, the sexes are identical in color.



immature bird


adult bird


Photos: Kim Starr & Forest Starr; by courtesy of Kim Starr & Forest Starr

Chroicocephalus utunui (Steadman)

Polynesian Gull (Chroicocephalus utunui)

This species was described in the year 2002 on the basis of very good preserved bones, which were found on the island of Huahine.

The species was certainly once distributed through the whole Society Archipelago.

The next relatives are the Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae (Stephens)) from Australia as well as the Black-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus bulleri (Hutton)), and the Red-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus scopulinus (J. R. Forster)) from New Zealand.


The species disappeared about 700 to 1200 A.D., thus shortly after the colonization of the island by Polynesians – resp., if one will trust very vague hints in a travel account from the year 1834, maybe actually as recently as during the middle of the 19th century.


Quite interesting in this context is the description of two gull species (Gavia pomarre Bruch in the year 1853 and Gavia pomare Bruch in the year 1855), which are supposed to come from the Society Islands, but which later (1887 and 1896) were identified as a juvenile Silver Gull and a juvenile Black-billed Gull, respectively.

The original material was lost during the World War II, and only drawings of the primaries and the heads (see depiction) are left.



[1] F. Debell Bennett: Narrative of a Whaling Voyage round the globe, from the year 1833 to 1836. Comprising Sketches of Polynesia, California, the Indian Archipelago, etc. with an account of southern whales, the sperm whale fishery, and the natural history of the climates visited. London, Richard Bentley 1840
[2] D. W. Steadman: A New Species Of Gull (Laridae: Larus) From An Archaeological Site On Huahine, Society Islands. Proceedings of The Biological Society of Washington Band 115: 1–17. 2002
[3] D. W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University Of Chicago Press 2006



the enigmatic species Gavia pomarre or Larus pomarre

Depiction from: ‘C. F. Bruch: Monographische Uebersicht der Gattung Larus Lin. Journal für Ornithologie. 1(2): 96-108. 1853’