Sunday, September 25, 2011


Illustration of the Whekau
 by John Gerrard Keulemans
The Whekau, or Laughing Owl, is one of the many island bird species that have gone extinct in the past few hundred years. When European settlers arrived in New Zealand in 1840 this bird was abundant on the islands. After only 40 years they declined to rarity, and the last Owl was found dead in 1914.

Whekau  lived in rocky, open, relatively dry areas, where they fed off of insects, rodents, small birds, and reptiles. One interesting tidbit is that these Owls actually hunted on foot! they had long, sturdy legs that helped them to chase down prey.

The Laughing Owl name comes from the fact that these birds had a very unique call. It was very loud, and sounded like a series of repeated "dismal shrieks."

Whekau went extinct for a number of reasons. Habitat loss was a major factor, as was the introduction of feline and mustelid predators to the islands. Before their extinction several specimens had been sent abroad for museum study, and luckily a handful of naturalists were able to observe the birds in the wild before they completely disappeared.

Since 1914 numerous unconfirmed sightings have popped up, and cracked egg shells were allegedly found in 1960. While the Whekau is probably extinct, it is nice to imagine that there might just be a couple of them still out there.

Status : Extinct (?) since 1914
Location : New Zealand
Size : Length 15in (38cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : Sceloglaux -- Species : S. albifacies

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