Extinct Birds, 2nd edition








608 pp.




Bloomsbury Natural History


104 black and white illustrations by the author


246 x 189 mm


Extinct Birds was the first comprehensive review of the hundreds of the bird species and subspecies that have become extinct over the last 1,000 years of habitat degradation, over-hunting and rat introduction. It has become the standard text on this subject, covering both familiar icons of extinction as well as more obscure birds, some known from just one specimen or from travellers’ tales. This second edition is expanded to include dozens of new species, as more are constantly added to the list, either through extinction or through new subfossil discoveries.

Extinct Birds is the result of decades of research into literature and museum drawers, as well as caves and subfossil deposits, which often reveal birds long-gone that disappeared without ever being recorded by scientists while they lived. From Greak Auks, Carolina Parakeets and Dodos to the amazing yet almost completely vanished bird radiations of Hawaii and New Zealand via rafts of extinction in the Pacific and elsewhere, this book is both a sumptuous reference and astounding testament to humanity’s devastating impact on wildlife.

Each copy sold will include a unique original drawing of the buyer’s choice

Excavation of Mare aux Songes, Mauritius

December 2017

excavation-of-mare-aux-songes-mauritius_0The Mare aux Songes (MAS) fossil site was discovered in 1865, and has been excavated on a number of occasions. Almost all of the world’s dodo fossil specimens were discovered at this one site. The MAS has been excavated from 2005 to 2010, and spectacular discoveries have been made (see my publications list).

The Dodo

Dodo Heads drawingMany spectacular island terrestrial vertebrates have disappeared over the past few centuries – a minutia in terms of geological time – yet the pitiful epitaphs of these vanished species comprise frequently just a few bones and a handful of inadequate historical accounts. Prior to the discovery of sufficient skeletal material, Strickland & Melville in 1848 presented a most fitting summary in their now classic monograph on the dodo Raphus cucullatus, highlighting the complications that study of a species so recently lost to the world could entail.

In the case of the didinae, it is unfortunately no easy matter to collect satisfactory information as to their structure, habits, and affinities. We possess only the rude descriptions of unscientific voyagers, three or four oil paintings, and a few scattered osseous fragments, which have survived the neglect of two hundred years. The paleontologist has, in many cases, far better data for determining the zoological characters of a species which perished myriads of years ago, than those presented by a group of birds, which were living in the reign of Charles the First.

DodoFollowing the discovery of Mauritius by the Dutch in 1598, tales of the idyllic paradise soon spread around the maritime powers of Europe. Year-round fresh water, lagoons teeming with fish and dugong, an array of tame birds together with immense quantities of valuable ebony made the island an important staging post between west and east. Sadly, this paradise was altered beyond recognition and within a hundred years, many of the endemic species including the dodo became extinct. Virtually nothing was recorded about the dodo’s life history. After the discovery of the first skeletal material in the Mare aux Songes in 1865, the dodo received its first full anatomical description by Richard Owen, founder of the Natural History Museum, London. Subsequent dodo research resulted in a number of publications; however, most were founded on speculation, an unfortunate practice that continues to the present day. The main basis for the assumptions lay in contrasting discrepancies in the early accounts, including contemporary and non-contemporary illustrations, and too much emphasis has been placed on these inaccuracies. Strickland and Melville were not misled by the available literature and their dodo monograph is testament to a cautious approach.


October 2001

Mountain view from SilhouetteLa DigueThe Seychelles comprise five main volcanic islands situated north of Madagascar in the south-west Indian Ocean. The largest island and central in the group is Mahé with tiny Aride Island to the north, the most easterly are Praslin and La Digue, with Silhouette and North Island to the west. If it is true paradise you are looking for then these are the islands to visit.

Fossil discovery on SilhouetteLa Digue is where many exotic adverts and films are made and the beauty of this island is exceptional. I surveyed all islands for fossils (honest) and found the first bird remains in a marsh on North Island and giant tortoise remains in a cave on Silhouette; the first for the archipelago. The choice places to visit are the haunting Coco der Mer palm forest, Silhouette Island for mountain views, Aride for the seabirds, Seychelles Magpie Robins Copsychus sechellarum pecking around your feet, and Seychelles skinks Mabuya sp. scurrying all over your legs. La Digue of course, for the whitest sand, most turquoise sea and the most graceful coconut palms overhanging the shore. Add giant brown granite boulders and the picture is complete.

More photos from this expedition.

The first fossil discoverySilhouette from North Island

Comoros Archipelago

May 2009

Chaoueni AnjouanMoutsamoudou beach rubbishThe Comoros Archipelago comprises four main volcanic islands situated between Mozambique and Madagascar at the north end of the Mozambique Channel. Running from east to west, the most easterly and the oldest is Mayotte, followed by Anjouan, then Mohéli the smallest, and finally Grand Comore, the largest with an active volcano, Mt Kathala, considered one of the largest craters in the world.

Arab quarter in AnjouanAnjouan, Moheli and Grand Comore form the Arabic Union of the Comoros, while Mayotte is French owned and a popular tourist island. The Arabic Union of the Comoros is considered one of the poorest nations in the world and proved logistically difficult to get around.

This was compounded by the non acceptance of credit cards for any payment including hotels and inter-island flights, no means to draw cash, and everything had to be paid in cash currency. The islands were surveyed for potential fossil sites but proved unsuccessful. For getting away from the comforts of home, however, this is the place to visit. Sites worth seeing are Mt Kathala, the Arab Quarter in Moutsamoudou, and the Chaoueni coast.

Here are some more images from this expedition.

Bazamini CaveThatched Mountain HutFlying FoxLocal Transport