Aptornis defossor Owen, 1871:354

South Island adzebill, Aptornis, Ngutu Hahau (Māori)



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Aptornis bulleri Owen, 1887 (Jul.): in Buller, History of the Birds of N.Z., 2nd edition 1 (part 1): 23 – Albury, South Canterbury.


Conservation Status


Last record: Holocene



South Island, New Zealand


Biology & Ecology







Above: South Island Adzebill. Aptornis defossor. From the series: Extinct Birds of New Zealand., 2004, Masterton, by Paul Martinson. Purchased 2006. © Te Papa. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (2006-0010-1/41)



Original scientific description:

Owen, Richard. (1870). On Dinornis (Part XV): Containing a description of the skull, femur, tibia, fibula, and metatarsus of Aptornis defossor, Owen, from near Oamuru, Middle Island, New Zealand; with additional observations on Aptornis otidiformis, on Notornis mantelli, and on Dinornis curtus. Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 7: 353-380. [pp. 352-380, plates 40-44?]


Other references:

Allentoft, M. E., Scofield, R. P., Oskam, C. L.,Hale, M. L., Holdaway, Richard N. and Bunce, M. (2011). A molecular characterization of a newly discovered megafaunal fossil site in North Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 42(4): 241-256.

Andrews, C. W. (1896). Note on a nearly complete Skeleton of Aptornis defossor Owen. Geol. Mag. 3(6): 241-242. [[url=]Abstract[/url]]

Boast, Alexander P. et al. (2019). Mitochondrial Genomes from New Zealand’s Extinct Adzebills (Aves: Aptornithidae: Aptornis) Support a Sister-Taxon Relationship with the Afro-Madagascan Sarothruridae. Diversity 11(2): 24.

Checklist Committee (OSNZ). (2010). Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica (4th ed.). Ornithological Society of New Zealand & Te Papa Press, Wellington. [p. 178]

Checklist Committee (OSNZ). (2022). Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand (5th edition). Ornithological Society of New Zealand Occasional Publication No. 1. Wellington: Ornithological Society of New Zealand. [p. 54]

Holdaway, Richard N. (2021). Mind the gap: potential implications of the chronology of the South Island adzebill (Aptornis defossor) (Aves: Aptornithidae) at Pyramid Valley, North Canterbury. Notornis 68(4): 294-298.

Holdaway, Richard N., Worthy, Trevor H. and Tennyson, Alan J. D. (2001). A working list of breeding bird species of the New Zealand region at first human contact. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 28(2): 119-187.

Houde, P.; Cooper, A.; Leslie, E.; Shand, A. E.; Montano, G. A. 1997: Phylogeny and evolution of 12S rDNA in gruiformes (Aves). Pp. 117-154 In: Mindell, D. P. ed. Avian molecular evolution and systematics. San Diego, Academic Press. 382 pp.

Hume, Julian Pender and Walters, Michael. (2012). Extinct Birds. London: T & AD Poyser. 544 pp.

Livezey, Bradley C. (1994). The carpometacarpus of Apterornis. Notornis 41(1): 51-60.

Livezey, Bradley C. (1998). A phylogenetic analysis of the Gruiformes (Aves) based on morphological characters, with an emphasis on the rails (Rallidae). Phil.Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 353: 2077-2151.

Musser, Grace M. and Cracraft, Joel. (2019). A New Morphological Dataset Reveals a Novel Relationship for the Adzebills of New Zealand (Aptornis) and Provides a Foundation for Total Evidence Neoavian Phylogenetics. American Museum Novitates 3927: 1-70. [Abstract]

Olson, Storrs L. (1977). A synopsis of the fossil Rallidae, pp. 339-373. In: Ripley, S. D. Rails of the World. Boston: Godine.

Olson, Storrs L. (1985). The fossil record of birds, pp. 79-252. In: Farner, D. S.; King, J. R.; Parkes, K. C. ed. Avian biology, Vol. VIII. New York, Academic Press.

OPINION 1874. [url=]Aptornis Owen, 1848 (Aves): conserved as the correct original spelling[/url]. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 54(2): 142-143, 1997.

Owen, Richard. (1872). On Dinornis (Part XVIII): containing a Description of the Sternum and Pelvis, with an attempted restoration of Aptornis defossor, Ow. Trans. Zool. Soc. Lond., 8: 119-126.

Parker, W. K. (1866). On the structure and development of the skull in the ostrich tribe. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London clvi: 113.

Robertson, H. A., Baird, K. A., Elliott, G. P., Hitchmough, R. A., McArthur, N. J., Makan, T. D., Miskelly, Colin M., O’Donnell, C. F. J., Sagar, P. M., Scofield, R. P., Taylor, G. A. and Michel, P. (2021). Conservation status of birds in Aotearoa New Zealand, 2021. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 36. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 43 pp.

Hugh Robertson, John Dowding, Graeme Elliott, Rod Hitchmough, Colin Miskelly, Colin O’Donnell, Ralph Powlesland, Paul Sagar, Paul Scofield, Graeme Taylor. (2013). Conservation status of New Zealand birds, 2012. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 4. 22 pp.

Rothschild, Lionel Walter. (1907). Extinct birds: an attempt to write in one volume a short account of those birds which have become extinct in historical times, that is within the last six or seven hundred years: to which are added a few which still exist, but are on the verge of extinction. London: Hutchinson & Co. XXIX + 243 pp. [p. 148]

Seersholm, Frederik V. et al. (2018). Subsistence practices, past biodiversity, and anthropogenic impacts revealed by New Zealand-wide ancient DNA survey. PNAS. [Supplementary information]

Tennyson, Alan J. D. and Martinson, Paul. (2006). Extinct Birds of New Zealand. Wellington: Te Papa Press. vi + 180 pp.

Tennyson, A.J.D. & Martinson, P. 2007. Extinct birds of New Zealand. Revised edition. Wellington: Te Papa Press. vi + 180 pp.

Trotter, M. M. (1955). First Excavation of a Moa-hunter Camp Site at Waimataitai Mouth, Katiki. Journal of the Polynesian Society 64(3): [pagination?].

Trotter, M. M. (1965). Avian remains from North Otago archaeological sites. Notornis 12(3): 176-178. ["[i]Aptornis otidiformis[/i]", but from the South Island and therefore likely referable to [i]A. defossor[/i]]

Turbott, E. G. (Convener). (1990). Checklist of the birds of New Zealand and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica, 3rd. ed. Auckland, Random Century and the Ornithological Society of New Zealand. 247 pp.

Weber, E. and Hesse, A. (1995). The systematic position of Aptornis, a flightless bird from New Zealand. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg 181: 292-301.

Williams, G. R. (1962). Extinction and the land and freshwater-inhabiting birds of New Zealand. Notornis 10(1): 15-32.

Wood, Jamie R. (2009). Two Late Quaternary avifaunal assemblages from the Dunback district, eastern Otago, South Island, New Zealand. Notornis 56: 154-157.

Wood, Jamie R., Scofield, R. Paul, Hamel, Jill, Lalas, Chris and Wilmshurst, Janet M. (2017). Bone stable isotopes indicate a high trophic position for New Zealand’s extinct South Island adzebill ([i]Aptornis defossor[/i]) (Gruiformes: Aptornithidae). New Zealand Journal of Ecology  41(2): [pagination?].

Worthy, Trevor H. (1993). Fossils of Honeycomb Hill. Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. 56 pp.

Worthy, Trevor H. (1997). Fossil deposits in the Hodges Creek Cave System, on the northern foothills of Mt Arthur, Nelson, South Island, New Zealand. Notornis 44(2): 111-124.

Worthy, Trevor H. (1998). Quaternary fossil faunas of Otago, South Island, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 28(3): 421-521. [p. 462]

Worthy, T. H. and Holdaway, R. N. (1994). Quaternary fossil faunas from caves in Takaka Valley and on Takaka Hill, northwest Nelson, South Island, New Zealand. Journal of The Royal Society of New Zealand 24(3): 297-391.

Worthy, Trevor H. and Holdaway, Richard N. (1996). Quaternary fossil faunas, overlapping taphonomies, and palaeofaunal reconstruction in North Canterbury, South Island New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 26(3): 275-361.

Worthy, Trevor H. and Holdaway, Richard N. (2002). The Lost World of the Moa: Prehistoric Life of New Zealand. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. xxxiii + 718 pp.

Wragg, Graham M. (1981). The birds of Canterbury: history and present status. A dissertation presented as a requirement for the Diploma in Parks and Recreation (National Parks option). Lincoln College, New Zealand.


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