Kurrartapu johnnguyeni

Kurrartapu johnnguyeni is an extinct species of bird in the Australian magpie and butcherbird family. It was described from Early Miocene material (a proximal tarsometatarsus) found at Riversleigh in north-western Queensland, Australia. It is the first Tertiary record of a cracticid from Australia. The size of the fossil material indicates that it was similar in size to the living black butcherbird. The generic name is a Kalkatungu language term for the Australian magpie. The specific epithet honours John Nguyen, the father of the senior describer.


Based on shared traits between the black butcherbird and Australian magpie it is possible that the Kurrartapu also shared their glossy dark feathers and had calls similar to modern currawongs. Contemporary cracticid colouration ranges from predominantly black with some white to gray. Round wings, like those of the black butcherbird and peltops, are typical of denser forest inhabitatants, and the closed rainforest that covered Australia in the early miocene make this trait far more likely than pointy wings, which are characteristic of other open-dwelling cracticids.



The Kurrartapu fossil was found in the early Miocene deposit of Riversleigh. Australia then was experiencing the effects of the global warming phase which followed the melting of the polar ice caps. Plant and animal fossils also found in the deposit are closely related to extant rainforest (subtropical and tropical closed forest) dwelling species. During the early miocene, fossils suggest central Australian lakes and swamps hosted sclerophyll forests, dominated by acacia, casuarina, and eucalyptus. In temperate rainforests, the canopy consisted mainly of coniferous podocorp and araucarian, and deciduous nothofagus trees, with an understory of tree ferns (predominately cyatheacean and dicksoniacean), along with a diversity of other flora. The rich diversity of the early miocene Australian forests approximates that of modern lowlands in Borneo. These forests were forever wet, and ranged between warm and cool temperatures. At this time (the early Miocene) Australia had broken off from Gondwana. This implies the Kurrartapu was restricted to the continent, and likely resided within the widespread rainforests aboard. Similar to the non-migratory black butcherbird, peltops, and extant Australian magpie one might assume the Kurrartapu was equally sedentary, although contemporary currawongs do undertake altitudinal migration.

Habits and Lifestyle

Based on a comparison between currawongs and the Australian magpie, one might infer that Kurrartapus were also territorial and possibly flocked. It is likely they also cached food, as do the currawongs, butcherbirds, and Australian magpies. Based on membership to the cracticid taxa, it can be imagined that the Kurrartapu may have had lifespans which potentially exceeded 15 years, and took a year to reach sexual maturity. It is possible juvenile Kurrartapus were heavily dependent on their parents, and engaged in play like fellow cracticids. Engagement in play, along with passive mirror engagement (tapping, looking behind, investigating) and problem-solving abilities of butcherbirds evince the potential intelligence shared by the group. It is likely that Kurrartapus were hoppers, and navigated the ground by moving legs in parallel synchronization, as do butcherbirds and currawongs, although Australian magpies have developed bipedalism, able to walk and sprint.

Diet and Nutrition

Like other cracticids, they were probably predatory omnivores, generalists and active in the daytime, feeding mainly on invertebrates and carrion, though consuming smaller vertebrates and fruits as well. Observations of Australian magpie and pied-billed currawong diets show heavy invertebrate consumption (predominantly beetles, ants, moths, caterpillars, orthopterans, and spiders), though the pied-billed currawongs consumed fruit significantly as well.

Mating Habits

Cracticids are cooperative breeders, and maybe Kurrartapus exhibited this trait as well. It is possible that like other cracticids, they built cup shaped nests with twigs and grasses.


1. Kurrartapu Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurrartapu

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