Mystery Bird of Oceania.
Etymology: Ajie (Austronesian) word.
Physical description: Red plumage. Star-shaped, bony structure on its head.
Behavior: Flightless. Can run swiftly with wings outstretched. Aggressive. Its single egg hatches in four months. Said to put its egg in a banyan tree to lure a giant lizard into incubating it.
Distribution: Isle of Pines, New Caledonia, in the South Pacific.
Significant sighting: On both New Caledonia and the Isle of Pines, there are large, moundlike structures, as much as 50 feet in diameter and 5 feet high. François Poplin suggests that they are not burial mounds but piles of earth constructed by the Du to incubate its eggs.
Present status: At first treated as sacred by local people, the bird may have become a handy food source that was eventually exterminated, perhaps by a.d. 300. However, Lars Thomas reported that it was still thought to be alive in
Possible explanation: Surviving Giant mega-pode (Sylviornis neocaledoniae), a large galliform bird whose subfossil bones were first discovered on the Isle of Pines in 1974. They were radiocarbon-dated to about 1500 b.c, after the Melanesians settled the island. The bird was 5—6 feet tall and flightless.
Sources: Paul Griscelli, "Deux oiseaux fossiles de Nouvelle-Calédonie," Bulletin de la Société d'Etudes Historiques de Nouvelle-Calédonie 29 (1976): 3-6; François Poplin and Cécile Mourer-Chauviré, "Sylviornis neocaledoniae (Aves, Galliformes, Megapodiidae), oiseau géant éteint de l'Ile des Pins (Nouvelle-Calédonie)," Géobios 18 (February 1985): 73-97; Cécile Mourer-Chauviré and François Poplin, "Le mystère des tumulus de Nouvelle-Calédonie," La Recherche 16 (September 1985): 1094; Lars Thomas, Mysteriet om Havuhyrerne (Copenhagen: Gyldendal Boghandel, 1992).
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