A new wren

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Even as New Zealand birds like the kakapo teeter on the brink of extinction, evidence continues to come to light concerning species which died out in the recent or distant past.

This year, a new species of extinct wren was described, bringing to seven the number of wrens which are known to have lived in New Zealand. Of these, only two remain: the rifleman and the rock wren. The famous case of the lighthouse keeper’s cat, which has been blamed for single-pawedly eliminating the Stephens Island flightless wren (a previ­ously widespread species) in the 1890s, was a particu­larly poignant saga. Equally distressing was the extinc­tion, as recently as the 1970s, of the bush wren from islets near Stewart Island.

Dendroscansor decurvirostris (right), like the Stephens Island wren, was flightless, and prob­ably fed by probing holes and crevices in tree bark for insects and other inverte­brates. It had an extraordi­narily long, downcurved beak, and short, slender legs, and probably was equally at home scuttling up and down living trees as it would have been fossicking on fallen logs. Perhaps, like the kiwi, it also used its long bill to probe into the soil.

Like so many other New Zealand birds, including other wrens, rails and petrels, D. decurvirostris was probably wiped out by the introduced Polynesian rat.

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