Parrots in Siberia?
Parrots are colourful, exotic birds that inhabit tropical and sub-tropical regions today. But a recent find suggests that there was a time when these magnificent birds travelled much further north.
Researchers have unearthed a parrot bone in Siberia. This is the furthest north that evidence of these species has ever been found. The single bone was discovered in the Baikal region of eastern Siberia. It was found on Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. The bone dates to somewhere between 16 and 18 million years ago. This find suggests that parrots may once have been a common site in Europe and Asia.
Experts have been surprised by the discovery of the bone. Scientists from the Borissak Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences had been excavating a variety of animals in Siberia. Their finds had been mainly rodents, rhinos, cats and hippos. The bone was found in 2012 but lay unexamined in a box for four years.
The parrot bone suggests that the bird was about the size of a budgerigar. The bone is called a tarsometatarsus and this is found in the lower leg of birds where it connects the ankle to the toes. Comparison with other species revealed that the bone was that of a small parrot. Sadly, the single bone is not enough to enable scientists to reconstruct the appearance of the bird or to learn about its lifestyle. The bone is similar to a fossilised parrot bone which was found in Germany in 2010. This belonged to the species Mogontiacopsitta miocaena.
The location of the parrot bone provides an interesting clue as to how parrots spread across the world and moved into the Americas. It had been thought that they flew from Africa to the Americas across the Atlantic but the discovery in Siberia suggests that there may have been parrots inhabiting Asia or passing over Asia. This could mean that they flew over the Bering strait from Russia to Alaska and Canada.
The idea of parrots living in Siberia is not as strange as it might appear. Parrots are living in the Himalayas and parakeets manage to survive in the wild here in the UK. They can cope well with colder climates and during the miocine period from which the Siberian bones dates, the climate in Siberia would have been warmer than it is now.
The discovery of the bone indicates that there was at least one parrot in Siberia. There were almost certainly many more. However, bird bones are hollow and fragile and so are often destroyed rather than being fossilised. This may explain why parrot bones have not been found in the region before. Many tons of earth were screened in order to uncover the single bone but it is hoped that more will be unearthed so that scientist can deduce what the parrots looked like and how they lived.