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Adzebill

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Adzebill
Aptornis BW
Name Adzebill
Order Gruiformes
family Aptornithidae
Class Aves
Period Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene
Location New Zealand
Diet Omnivore
Length 2-3 metres (6-10 feet) tall

The adzebills, genus Aptornis, were two closely related bird species, the North Island Adzebill, Aptornis otidiformis, and the South Island Adzebill, Aptornis defossor, of the extinct family Aptornithidae. The family was endemic to New Zealand.

They have been placed in the Gruiformes but this is not entirely certain. It was also proposed to ally them with the Galloanserae (Weber & Hesse, 1995). Studies of morphology and DNA sequences place them variously close to and far off from the Kagu of New Caledonia, as well as the trumpeters; however, on first discovery of fossils, they were mistaken for ratites, specifically small Moa. Its morphological closeness to the Kagu may be the result of convergent evolution, although New Zealand's proximity to New Caledonia and shared biological affinities (the two islands are part of the same microcontinent) has led some researchers to suggest they share a common ancestor from Gondwana.

If so, it is interesting to note that the Gondwanan Sunbittern is most likely the closest living relative of the Kagu, and these two may also be reasonably close to the mesites, yet other "odd gruiforms" from the Southern Hemishpere, but do not seem to be close to the Gruiformes proper (i.e. cranes, rails and allies. See e.g. Fain & Houde, 2004). On the other hand, should the adzebills be closer to the trumpeters, placement in the Gruiformes is likely to be correct even if the Kagu and Sunbittern are split off.

In life the adzebills were massive gruiformes, the size of small Moa (with which they were initially confused with on their discovery) with enormous downward-curving and pointed bill, and strong legs. They were flightless and had extremely reduced wings, smaller than those of the Dodo compared to the birds' overall size, and with a uniquely reduced carpometacarpus (Livezey, 1994).

The adzebills were never as widespread as the moa, but subjected to the same hunting pressure as these and other large birds by the settling Polynesians (and predation of eggs/hatchlings by accompanying kiore and dogs). They became extinct before the arrival of European explorers.

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