An artist’s depiction of a plotopterid

New bird species found northwest of Sooke

Sooke family finds 25-million-year-old fossil while beach combing

Out on an ordinary walk on a local beach, a Sooke family found something peculiar recently: a slab of rock that had fallen out of a nearby cliff containing a fossil of sorts.

Curious, they rushed the fossil to the Royal B.C. Museum for a proper examination. As it turns out, the fossil is not only 25 million years old, but it belongs to a prehistoric bird never before seen on these shores.

Gary Kaiser, a research associate and bird expert at the Royal B.C. Museum was able to distinguish the rare bird’s remains from its equally ancient family of plotopterids, a long-extinct family of flightless birds.

These groups of wild birds are well known to be from the West Coast of the United States and from Japan, and now, for the first time, in Canada. They were massive in size, weighing between 220 to 440 pounds and standing about six feet tall.

Only, this particular bird, an adult, was no more than three pounds when it was alive, making it an unusual, but thrilling discovery, noted Kaiser, who said Sooke’s bird is one of three of its kind found in the world.

“Out of 200 specimens of these birds, only three of them are little guys. One in Japan, one in California, and now ours,” he said.

Sharing similarity to cormorant bones found in the modern pelagic cormorant, the fossil, known as a coracoid (collar) bone, was one of three bones in the bird that hooked up at the shoulder. Then there’s the wishbone, and the shoulder blade, which hangs literally along the backbone.

Kaiser described it as a “long sword-like flexible bone” and the other bone that hooks into that point is the arm bone. Unusual, but then what would you expect from a flightless six-foot bird.

Its anatomy aside, it’s still very rare, as bird bones don’t preserve very well as they are thin and light.

The last fossil bird discovered along the shorelines northwest of Sooke was more than 100 years ago, according to the Royal B.C Museum.

It’s not the first time this has happened, either. Kaiser said a couple of tourists once found a whole skeleton of a prehistoric hippopotamus-like behemoth at Sombrio Beach that was just laying in the creek, along with many other fossils.

A type of “beach bear” was another native species from that area, among thousands of fossils of better-known creatures.

 

“We’ve got a few whale bones and dolphin bones – 99.9 per cent of the fossils are shells, but every now and then you get one of these bones stuck in them,” Kaiser said.