A sandpiper from the Manua’e Atoll, Society Islands?

The quail spoken of by an early writer as occurring on Christmas [Kiritimati] and possibly other islands was probably the native sandpiper, as it resembles a quail when running on the ground and a merchant here told me the other day of quail on Scilly Islands [Manua’e] which he is putting into coconuts.” [1]


This rather incidental and somewhat strange side note is the only reference to the past existence of a species of sandpiper (Prosobonia sp.) on the ‘Leeward Islands’ in the Society Islands group, a species of the same genus known to have inhabited the islands in the past islands of Mo’orea and Tahiti in the southeast of the same archipelago. 

The only island in this group on which a fossil site has been discovered so far is Huahine, from where there are, at least so far, no finds of this genus. 

The form from the Manua’e Atoll, if it really existed – and I think it might well have existed – might have been identical to that known from subfossil remains found on the island of Mangaia in the Cook Archipelago [2], or it may have been a distinct form; but it was certainly not identical with the birds of the islands of Mo’orea and Tahiti, and it was certainly not identical with the Tuamotu Sandpiper (Prosobonia parvirostris (Peale)), since the Manua’e Atoll is much closer to the Cook Archipelago than to the Tuamotu Archipelago. 

Interestingly, the report cited above appears to date from the early 20th century, indicating that various Polynesian bird forms might have survived much longer than is often assumed. 


Manua’e Atoll, leeward Society Islands

Photo: NASA
(public domain)



[1] Whitney South Sea Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. Extracts from the journal of Rollo H. Beck. Vol. 1, Sept 1920 – June 1923
[2] D. W. Steadman: Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds. University of Chicago Press 2006


edited: 05.07.2023