Scientists have classified an extinct black-crowned night-flying eagle as “endangered”. This tiny raptor, with a wingspan of just 45cm, is the only example of its kind that remains today. It could help scientists understand how birds regenerate, which parasites or viruses cause digestive problems and potentially, how embryonic birds can retain their vital organs.
The little bird’s autopsy revealed it died as a result of a gastric ulcer. The scientists believe they could have discovered the cause if they had performed one 100 years ago. “In some respects it almost looked like a vulture,” said Dr Vanessa Taylor from Flinders University, Australia. “In certain body states it has remarkable kinked anus.”
Dr Taylor and her team, led by Dr Angus Wilson, a former lecturer at the University of Adelaide and now at Macquarie University in Sydney, examined the spine of the bird. It could provide clues to a “coincidence of fate” that the birds were hunted to extinction just as close cousins of their species, the cranes, still function.
It was found to have distinct features of the gastric ulcer (shown here) in addition to bowel obstruction and pyloriosis – “rectal microorganism-like or smelly behaviour”. The condition could be caused by an immune disorder or inflammation, which can cause tissues to die. Either way, it suggests that intestinal tissue can come back after death.
“This mortality may be driven by anatomical changes associated with natural evolution, or biological or environmental changes that may have arisen in the extinct bird,” said Dr Taylor.
The fossil, named Corianarius gammi, was found in 1963 but was well-preserved. It was recovered during excavations at the Chinaman’s Gate dig at Hamelin Cave in Ireland.