The team initially thought the fossils belonged to a giant eagle. Photograph: Brian Choo/Flinders University
Fossils of the largest parrot ever recorded have been found in New Zealand.
Estimated to have weighed about 7kg (1.1st), it would have been more than twice as heavy as the kākāpo, previously the largest known parrot.
Palaeontologists have named the new species Heracles inexpectatus to reflect its unusual size and strength and the unexpected nature of the discovery.
Prof Trevor Worthy of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author of the research published in the journal Biology Letters, said: “Once we decided it was something new and interesting, the challenge was to figure out what family it was from.“Because no giant parrots have been found previously, parrots were not on our radar – thus it took some time to differentiate all other birds essentially from parrots to conclude that the unique suite of characters was definitive of a parrot.”
Paul Scofield, a senior curator of natural history at Canterbury Museum, said the fossil had been excavated in 2008, and initially the team had thought the bones were part of a giant eagle.
The bones, which will go on display at an exhibition in November, were found in a fossil deposit from the early Miocene epoch, about 19m years ago, near Saint Bathans in Central Otago, New Zealand.
Although the area is now very cold and known for its skiing, Scofield said the climate at the time meant the parrot would have lived near a giant lake in a diverse subtropical forest.
“Back then, it was a subtropical environment quite similar to northern New South Wales, and even had similar vegetation,” Scofield said.
He said the parrot’s weight meant there was a possibility it was flightless. Although the bird’s diet is unknown, Scofield noted most parrots today are vegetarian.