Extinct and Extirpated Birds from Aitutaki and Atiu, Southern Cook Islands

TitleExtinct and Extirpated Birds from Aitutaki and Atiu, Southern Cook Islands
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsSteadman, DW
JournalPacific Science

Six archaeological sites up to 1000 years old on Aitutaki, Cook Islands, have yielded bones of 15 species of birds, five of which no longer occur on the island: Pterodroma rostrata (Tahiti Petrel); Sula sula (Red-footed Booby); Dendrocygna, undescribed sp. (a large, extinct whistling duck); Porzana tabuensis (Sooty Crake); and Vini kuhlii (Rimatara Lorikeet). Of these, only S. sula and P. tabuensis survive anywhere in the Cook Islands Today. The nearest record of any species of Dendrocygna is in Fiji. Aside from the aquatic species Egretta sacra (Pacific Reef-Heron) and Anas superciliosa (Gray Duck), the only native, resident land bird on Aitutaki today is the Society Islands Lorikeet (Vini peru viana), which may have been introduced from Tahiti. Residents of Aitutaki note that Ducula pacifica (Pacific Pigeon) and Ptilinopus rarotongensis (Cook Islands Fruit-Dove) also occurred there until the 1940s or 1950s.There is no indigenous forest on Aitutaki today. The bones from Aitutaki also include the island's first record of the fruit bat Pteropus tonganus. Limestone caves on the island of Atiu yielded the undated bones of six species of birds, three of which no longer exist there or anywhere else in the Cook Islands: Gallicolumba erythroptera (Society Islands Ground-Dove), Ducula aurorae (Society Islands Pigeon), and Vini kuhlii. Each of these species has been recovered from prehistoric sites on Mangaia as well. The limestone terrain of Atiu is mostly covered with native forest that supports populations of Ducula pacifica, Ptilinopus rarotongensis, Collocalia sawtelli (Atiu Swiftlet), and Halcyon tuta (Chattering Kingfisher). The survival of these land birds depends upon protection of Atiu's forests.