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Desert Diary
Fossils/Dead Birds


At the end of the Pleistocene ice ages, a large number of mammals and birds became extinct. These losses often are recognized as the Pleistocene megafaunal extinction, because most of the animals becoming extinct were large creatures, such as sloths, mammoths, and sabertooth cats. There were, however, some smaller creatures that didn't make it. Among the Southwestern forms were various birds.

One of these, described from Shelter Cave at the south end of the Organ Mountains, was a member of the blackbird family and is given the tongue-twister name of Pyelorhamphus molothroides. If you'd feel more comfortable, the common name of Thick-billed Cowbird will serve. Somewhat larger in size were two species of waterfowl of the genus Anabernicula, known in the paleontological literature as pygmy geese. Not that these were of the ordinary garden-variety of geese. Instead, they seem to represent a group of duck- and goose-like forms not currently represented in North America. The remains are known only from bones recovered from caves—caves that, not surprisingly, occur near present-day playas that were ponds or lakes during the Pleistocene.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.