7 Interesting Extinct Birds

Most of us are used to seeing birds every day. Sadly, there are some birds you'll never get to see. Read on to learn about 7 interesting but extinct birds.

Jul 13, 2023byKim Anisi
interesting extinct birds

Many bird species have been lost to us forever. Some were alive millions of years ago. We only know of them because of fossil finds and the wonders of artistic reconstruction.

Others became extinct not so long ago, and some of the birds you see around you all the time might be more endangered than you think.

This article introduces you to extinct birds, ranging from the huge Pelagornis Sandersi to the considerably smaller Laughing Owl.

Passenger Pigeons

passenger pigeon
Image Credit: Mark Catesby, George Edwards

The Passenger Pigeon was endemic to North America and once a thriving bird species. When flocks of these birds were in the sky, it literally darkened. There once were between 3 and 5 billion passenger pigeons.

It was humanity that eradicated these friendly birds. They were killed in large numbers as cheap food for slaves. In addition, the deforestation of their nesting grounds did not help. It is sad to realize that humans can manage to destroy a species that once had a population of so many.

In 1914, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, died in Cincinnati Zoo.

Great Auks

great auk
Image Credit: Vizetelly Photographs & Illustrations

The Great Auk looked a bit like a penguin and used to be a common sight on the North Atlantic shores and islands. Penguins were named after them as Great Auks belonged to the genus Pinguinus. Unfortunately, the flightless birds weren’t aware of the fact that making friends with humans wasn’t such a good idea.

Great Auks were a food source, but Native American cultures also used them for symbolic purposes, as Great Auk bones and beaks were discovered in some burial sites.

When the birds turned into a rare sight, collectors became very interested in them. They saw Great Auk skins and eggs as a desirable trophy. In 1844, the last known pair of Great Auks was killed.

Carolina Parakeets

Carolina Parakeet
Image Credit: Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten/Naturalis Biodiversity Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Carolina Parakeet was one of only three parakeet species native to Northern America. Unfortunately, the lovely little bird was a nuisance to farmers because flocks came to the fields and feasted on various crops.

In 1939, the sad announcement that the species was extinct followed a steady and fast decline in numbers. Interesting fact: the last captive Carolina Parakeet did not only die in the same zoo as the last captive Passenger Pigeon, but in the same aviary!

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers

ivory billed woodpeckers
Image Credit: Plate 66 of Birds of America by John James Audubon

A native of Southern USA and Cuba, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is another bird that fell victim to a loss of habitation thanks to humans. The last confirmed sighting was in 1944.

With between 48 to 53 cm in length, and a wingspan of 76 cm, this woodpecker used to be the largest woodpecker in the US and one of the largest worldwide. Fun fact, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was a bird that mated for life.

Laughing Owls

laughing owl
Image Source: John Kendrick, Courtesy of Department of Conservation

New Zealand is home to many beautiful and interesting birds. Sadly, the county also lost many bird species over the last few centuries. As opposed to the large Haast Eagles, the Laughing Owls are on the other end of the size spectrum.

The charming little owl had a few distinctive calls, some which sounded like dismal, maniacal shrieks, others like the barking of a dog.

These owls weren’t hunted for food but were desired by collectors. New Zealand also suffered from a lot of deforestation, which caused a loss of habitat for these little owls. Introducing new predators like cats, stoats, and possums was the final nail in this bird species’ coffin.

Elephant Birds

elephant bird
Image Credit: Mary Evans Picture Library

As the name suggests, these birds were huge. With up to 2.5 meters in height and up to 1000 kilograms in weight, they were no joke.

Elephant birds have been extinct since the 17th century, probably much earlier, as sightings weren’t very reliable. You can probably guess the reason for their extinction: humans. Not only did they hunt these birds for their meat, but also enjoyed their huge eggs. One egg could feed multiple families.

You may not believe this, but the Elephant Bird is closely related to the Kiwi, the famous flightless New Zealand bird.

Pelagornis Sandersi

pelargonis bird
Image Credit: Peter Trusler

This bird has been extinct for millions of years. Pelagornis Sandersi, and other Pelagornis birds, lived about 25-28 million years ago.

Pelagornis Sandersi were immense birds with a wingspan of up to 7.3 meters! So far, no fossils of a bigger flying bird have been found, and among today’s birds, none come even close.

They were huge and had rows of teeth, making them look fierce! It is not yet clear what caused their extinction.

Kim Anisi
byKim Anisi

Kim currently works with birds of prey, dogs, cats, and some horses in Scotland. Her other big love is gulls, ravens, and chickens – which started during her time as a bird rescue volunteer in New Zealand. You'll often find her stalking animals with a camera, or walking dogs, including Ivory, her Golden Retriever.