|Stephens Island wren (Traversia lyalli) drawn by John Gerrard Keulemans|
Flightlessness in birds is common on islands and is an artefact of an evolutionary history devoid of typically mammalian predators. This is evident in New Zealand which has the greatest number of flightless bird species than any other landmass. Subsequently, it is flightlessness that contributes significantly to predation vulnerability and ultimately extinction, another common occurrence on islands in recent times. And it is exactly this which led to the demise of the Stephens Island wren.
Stephens Island, or takapourewa is located at the northernmost tip of the Marlborough Sounds on the South Island of New Zealand. Up until the 1890s it was free from human impact and pests, and had become the last remaining outpost for the Stephens Island wren. This changed when it was decided that the island would make a perfect place for a lighthouse. The remoteness and untouched nature of the island is beautifully highlighted by Prof. Richard Holdaway who said that it would have been like stepping back in time. Unfortunately for the little wren species, that moment marked beggining of the end. On such a small island, only 1.84 sq km, there is not much place to hide if you are a bird that can't fly, and especially from a cat. The lighthouse keeper, Lyall (from who the wren gets it's species name) had just that, a cat! According to legend Tibbles the cat made short work of the little wren and has been credited with single pawdedly wiping out an entire species. This of course is not true since the bird was previously found on the mainland. There is an historical account of what did happen on the wiki page.
One last thought I will leave you with is this question; if Stephens Island is 3.4km away from the mainland and the Stephens Island wren was flightless, how did it get there?