Oldest Parrot Fossil Found -- In Scandinavia?

Matt Kaplan in London
for National Geographic News
May 23, 2008

The fictional dead Scandinavian parrot that an unhappy customer tried to return in a famous Monty Python TV sketch may have a 54-million-year-old real-life ancestor, if a new study is to be believed.

An ancient bird found on Denmark's Isle of Mors has already been nicknamed the "Danish blue" in honor of the fictional "Norweigan blue" breed of parrot featured in the 1970s British comedy show.

The fossil—a large wing bone called the humerus—represents the oldest and most northerly remains of a parrot ever discovered, the study authors say.

Parrot fossils are scarce, because their small, light bones tend to be destroyed before they can become fossilized.

The discovery suggests that parrots evolved in the Northern Hemisphere before branching into wildly diverse species in the southern tropics.

"I had been looking at a lot of parrot bones before this fossil ever came to us, and when I saw it I really started wondering if it might be a parrot," said study co-author David Waterhouse, who researched the fossil between 2002 and 2006 on a scholarship with University College Dublin.

Scandivanian Tropics

Today no wild parrots live in northern Europe. The birds are mostly confined to Earth's southern tropical regions.

(Related: "Feral Parrot Population Soars in U.K., Study Says" [July 8, 2004].)

During the Monty Python sketch, the shopkeeper tries to explain to the customer that the reason the parrot isn't moving is because it is "pining for the fjords."

But the newfound Danish blue would have flown over a decidedly more lush and tropical Scandinavia—one that resembled the habitat of modern parrots.

During this time Europe was in the midst of a warm period, and a lagoon covered much of the continent.

Continued on Next Page >>




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