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Little kiwi and huge extinct elephant bird were birds of a feather

Published on May 23, 2014 6:25 AM
An adult brown kiwi (Apteryx australis) beside the egg of a huge elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus) is shown in this undated handout provided by Paul Scofield and Kyle Davis at the Caterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, on May 22, 2014. A new genetic study led by Kieren Mitchell and Alan Cooper at the University of Adelaide indicates that these two bizarre and dramatically different birds are close cousins. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - They might be the odd couple of the bird world.

Scientists on Thursday identified the closest relative of New Zealand's famed kiwi, a shy chicken-sized flightless bird, as the elephant bird of Madagascar, a flightless giant that was 10 feet (3 metres) tall and went extinct a few centuries ago.

The surprising findings, based on DNA extracted from the bones of two elephant bird species, force a re-evaluation of the ancestry of the group of flightless birds called ratites that reside in the world's southern continents, they added.

The group, which boasts some of the world's largest birds, includes emus and cassowaries in Australia, rheas in South America, ostriches in Africa and kiwis in New Zealand. Ratites that have disappeared in recent centuries include the moa of New Zealand and the elephant bird.

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