|South Island Piopio|
North Island piopio (front) and South Island piopio (rear)
|Common Name||New Zealand Thrush|
|Range||South Island of New Zealand.|
Two subspecies are recognised, the nominate Turnagra capensis capensis from the South Island mainland, and the much smaller Stephens Island piopio (Turnagra capensis minor) from Stephens Island, which is often considered to be based on juvenile birds, but seems to be valid (Medway, 2004b). The assumption of the well-flying bird evolving into a distinct subspecies on the small (2.6 km²) island close (3.2 km) to the mainland seems hard to believe, but Stephens Island must have held a population of many hundred birds in 1894 (Medway, 2004a), and the piopio was apparently a reluctant flyer, not usually being found on offshore islands.
For a long time the South Island piopio was considered conspecific with the North Island piopio that dwelt on New Zealand's North Island, but later they were recognised as two distinct species due to pronounced differences in external appearance and osteology (Olson et al., 1983).
This medium-sized bird was mostly olive-brown in colouration, with rufous wings and tail, and a speckled breast. The South Island piopio was considered to be one of the best song birds native to New Zealand. South Island piopios were omnivorous, and relatively unafraid of humans, as they have been recorded as taking scraps of food from campers.
The South Island piopio was once considered common in undergrowth forests of New Zealand's South Island, until 1863 when the population began to decline. The piopio continued to decline at a rapid rate throughout the 1880s mainly due to predation by cats and rats introduced to the island by humans, as well as some habitat destruction. By 1888 the bird was said to be the rarest in all of New Zealand, and by 1905 it was considered virtually extinct. The last confirmed specimen was shot at Oharu in 1902, although alleged sightings continued. For example, unconfirmed South Island piopio records exist from near Patea in 1923, between Gisborne and Wairoa on 7 May 1947, in Nelson district, January 1948 (all in Allison et al., 1949), and on 17 December 1947, at Lake Hauroko (Dunckley & Todd, 1949). The last supposed sighting was in 1963.
Stephens Island Subspecies
The Stephens Island population became extinct, apparently in 1897, due to predation by feral cats which had multiplied to number in the hundreds by that time (see also Stephens Island wren for a detailed chronology). The last specimen was taken on January 7, 1897, and there were none left by the end of 1898 (Medway, 2004a). Only 12 specimens of the Stephens Island bird exist today:
- Staatliches Museum Dresden 16657, 16658, 16659, 16660, 16661; five spirit specimens purchased from Walter Buller's collection, received in 1899,
- Natural History Museum, London 1903.12.10.2.; a female skin purchased from W. F. H. Rosenberg,
- World Museum Liverpool B.20.12.01-24 (male) and B.20.12.01-24a (female); skins from Buller's collection purchased in 1901,
- Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Fleming collection 3915; a male skin (the type specimen),
- Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh CM 24753 (male) and CM 24754 (female); skins from Buller's collection (his numbers 194c and 194d) and
- Übersee-Museum, Bremen 15080; a male skin collected by Hugo H. Schauinsland (the last record).
The last three are the only ones with reliable dates, having been taken in 1894, 1895 and 1897, respectively.