Old parrott wasn't pinin' for the fjords

It is most certainly an ex-parrot, which ceased to be some 55 million years ago - and there is no way this bird could ever have been pinin' for the fjords.Dr David Waterhouse, assistant curator of Natural History at Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, could not resist the Monty Python associations after the discovery of a fossil which he says is the oldest parrot ever found.

It is most certainly an ex-parrot, which ceased to be some 55m years ago - and there is no way this bird could ever have been pinin' for the fjords.

Dr David Waterhouse, assistant curator of Natural History at Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, could not resist the Monty Python associations after the discovery of a fossil which he says is the oldest parrot ever found.

The dead parrot in the classic sketch was a Norwegian Blue, but the one which Dr Waterhouse has been studying was found on the isle of Morse in the northwest of Denmark.

Reported in the current issue of the journal Palaeontology, the fossils indicate that parrots once flew wild over what is now Norway and Denmark.

Parrots today mainly live in the tropics and southern hemisphere, but this new research suggests that they first evolved in the North, much earlier than had been thought.

Officially named Mopsitta tanta, the bird has already been nicknamed the Danish Blue, and like John Cleese in the sketch, his first task was to establish it actually was a parrot.

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He said: “Obviously, we are dealing with a bird that is bereft of life, but the tricky “As with many fragile bird fossils, it is a wonder that anything remains at all, and all that remains of this early Danish parrot is a single upper wing bone (humerus).

“But, this small bone contains characteristic features that show that it is clearly from a member of the parrot family, about the size of a Yellow-crested Cockatoo.”

The fossil is the oldest and most northerly remains of a parrot ever found and Dr Waterhouse said: “It isn't as unbelievable as you might at first think that a parrot was found so far north.

“When Mopsitta was alive, most of Northern Europe was experiencing a warm period, with a large shallow tropical lagoon covering much of Germany, South East England and Denmark.

“We have to remember that this was only 10 million years after the dinosaurs were wiped out, and some strange things were happening with animal life all over the planet.

“No Southern Hemisphere fossil parrot has been found older than about 15 million years old, so this new evidence suggests that parrots evolved right here in the Northern Hemisphere before diversifying further south in the tropics later on.”

But while Michael Palin's shopkeeper tried to convince John Cleese his dead parrot was pinin' for the fjords, this one definitely did not.

Dr Waterhouse said: “It's a lovely image, but we can say with certainty that it did not. This parrot shuffled off its mortal coil around 55 million years ago, but the fjords of Norway were formed during the last ice age and are less than a million years old.”

The research was supported by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) and University College Dublin (UCD). Dr Waterhouse was funded by a UCD postgraduate scholarship from 2002 to 2006.

The paper on the parrot is published in today's edition of Palaeontology magazine.