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INTRODUCTION

On Spec, true ratites appear to have never evolved, the opportunity never having presented itself with the continued existence of small bipedal non-avian dinosaurs across the K-T boundary. On Aotearoa however, one group of large flightless palaeognaths, the diablornithiforms, has evolved. Unlike the placid herbivorous moas and omnivorous kiwis of Home Earth's New Zealand, the diablornithids, commonly called the gobblers due to their ravenous eating habits, are fearsome carnivores.

HISTORY

A diverse collection of volant palaeognaths has existed in Australia since the Paleogene, including large stork- and heron-like forms. Most of these lineages appear to have died out by the start of the Pliocene, but by then at least one stork-like species had made the arduous flight across the Tasman Sea to colonize Aotearoa and give rise to the diablornithids.

SPECIES

Crested Great Gobbler (Diablornis milleneri cristatus)

Gobblers are large, flightless birds with heavy hooked beaks and long sharp claws. Their legs are long and powerful whilst their wings have been reduced to a few tiny bones.

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Crested great gobbler, Diablornis milleneri cristatus (Aotearoa, South Island)

Despite its sleek appearance and powerful limbs, the great gobbler is a rather slow runner. Its powerful beak allows it to crunch bone and has a very wide gape enabling it to swallow many corpses whole. These birds have been sighted beachcombing for carrion as well as driving smaller cousins, the johnny gobblers, away from their kills. One great gobbler was witnessed raiding a seabird colony. With its eyes closed it was seemingly immune to the furious pecks of the parent seabirds as it casually went about consuming eggs, nestlings and overprotective parents by the mouthful.

The great gobbler has been witnessed actively hunting on only a few occasions more often than not with the human observer being the intended quarry. In these cases the large size and clumsy movements of the bird gave its position away and it gave up the hunt after a relatively short but frantic chase.

A related subspecies, the rufous great gobbler (Diablornis milleneri rufus), is found on the North Island.
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Rufous great gobbler, Diablornis milleneri rufus (Aotearoa, North Island)

Johnny Gobbler (Diablornithodies haasti rex)

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Johnny gobbler, Diablornithoides haasti rex (Aotearoa, South Island)

Not a pleasant animal in looks, disposition or odor, the johnny gobbler is a highly adaptable and opportunistic predator that is found throughout the Aotearoan archipelago. Operating alone, in pairs or in large murders of up to 2 dozen animals, this bird is known to attack, harass and maim just about anything that moves, including others of its own species during times of stress.

Lone johnnies forage for small animals and carrion in the undergrowth and streambeds, turning over stones and wood for insects and reptiles. They are also infamous nest thieves, sometimes snatching away hatchlings from right under their parents' gaze. When the opportunity to bring down a bigger animal like a lawnmoa or disco duck presents itself, large numbers of johnnies gather for the kill, squawking and making mock attacks to rattle their intended quarry. Once isolated from its kin, the prey is relentlessly harassed from all sides with individual johnnies making quick slashing attacks with their beaks. The attackers soon develop a shift system with some individuals continuing the onslaught while others rest. After several hours of this torment, the prey is usually too exhausted to fight and is quickly torn to pieces.

Spectacled Gobbler (Diablornithoides striatus)

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Spectacled gobbler, Diablornithoides striatus, and tangerine, Miravis convicii (Aotearoa, South Island)

Slightly larger and more solitary than the johnny gobbler, the spectacled gobbler is a forest species, preying upon the large ducks that browse the understory.

Lowland Keetraider (Diablornis psittaphagus)

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Lowland keetraider, Diablornis psittaphagus, and long-tailed ground parrot, Geobates pachyrhynchus (Aotearoa, North Island)

Another small gobbler species, the devious keetraider haunts the forests of North Island. This mastiff-sized killing machine is a relative of the great gobbler, and equally capable of crushing bone with its powerful beak.

The keetraider's most distinctive feature is its specialized diet; it is a parrot-eater. Aotearoa is home to many Specworld parrot species, including several varieties of large size, and the keetraider has evolved to eat them.

The pictured specimen represents the commoner lowland form, which presents larger, bulkier size and pale blue rings around the eyes.


                                ,=D. milleneri (Great gobbler)
                    ,=Diablornis=|
                    |             `=D. psittaphagus (Lowland keetraider)
=Diablornithiformes=|
                    |                  ,= D. haasti (Johnny gobbler)
                    `=Diablornithoides=|
                                       `=D. striatus (Spectacled gobbler)

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