A new pigeon species related to the extinct dodo bird has been found at a Central Otago fossil site near St Bathans.
The Zealandian dove, which lived in the South Island some 19 million to 16 million years ago, was identified from a few fossil bones found at St Bathans over the past 16 years.
One of the bones found on the wing was similar to the tooth-billed pigeon (found only in Samoa), the crowned pigeons of New Guinea, and the Nicobar pigeon (South East Asia), Doctor Vanesa De Pietri from Canterbury Museum said.
The latter was the closest living relative of the extinct dodo and the solitaire (another extinct, flightless bird) from the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, Dr De Pietri said.
"Based on the St Bathans fossils, we think that the Zealandian dove is part of this Indo-Pacific group. It is probably most similar to the Nicobar pigeon and is therefore a close relative (or at least a cousin) of the famous dodo", she said.
"The Zealandian dove is the first record of this group found in the southern part of the nearly submerged land mass known as Zealandia."