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Madeira Finch

Original, and only depiction of the finch.

The Madeira finch (Goniaphea leucocephala) is a presumed species of small passerine bird that recently went extinct, purportedly native to the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, which is part of the Macaronesia region. It should be distinguished from the extant Madeiran chaffinch (Fringilla maderensis).

Discovery The sole documented record is from 1823 when British author Thomas Edward Bowdich described and illustrated a bird in his 1825 book Excursions in Madeira and Porto Santo, during his third voyage to Africa. No physical remains of this bird exist; if it was collected, it likely disappeared while en route to Europe, as was the fate of most of Bowdich's specimens.

Description Bowdich described the bird as follows:

I saw another and more curious bird, but I doubt if it is a native of the island. The outline of the beak most resembles that of the widow-bird, (vidua, Cuv.) but the commisure is situated like that of the grakle, (gracula, Cuv.) immediately beneath the nostril, and forms a much deeper angle; it evidently belongs to the goniaphea, between fringilla and corythrus The upper mandible closes over the lower, and the middle toe is longer than the others; the whole bird is black, with the exception of the head, which is azure. G. leucocephala.

Taxonomy Bowdich's speculation that G. leucocephala might not be native to Madeira led some authors to place it in the New World genus Passerina rather than Fringillidae. However, this idea was dismissed as unlikely by Harald Pieper in 1985. Pieper discovered numerous subfossil remains of finches in Madeira, including at least one species closely related to the genus Acanthis. Despite acknowledging Bowdich's account and agreeing it represented an endemic, recently extinct finch from Madeira, Pieper refrained from assigning any remains to this species.

Extinction No similar bird has been sighted or described since Bowdich's account, suggesting the species disappeared before Richard Thomas Lowe surveyed Madeira and Porto Santo in 1853. Possible causes of extinction include habitat alteration by humans and the introduction of predators. Human settlement in Madeira since 1420 drastically changed the natural vegetation, leading to the extinction of several bird species, including flightless rails and quails. Charles Darwin noted the islands' lack of endemic species by 1859. Pieper's research in the 1980s found many pre-settlement bird remains from Madeira and Porto Santo belonged to extinct endemics, indicating that human activity likely caused the extinction of native bird species, which were replaced by continental species like the common linnet and European goldfinch.

Explanations[]

  • Possibly a variant of Madeiran chaffinch.
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