An anonymous submitter asked for a “penguin/auk-like relative of Pelagornis“:
Odontopinguinus vomitus represents an unusal early branch of the pelagornithids that didn’t take up long-distance soaring, instead specializing for a pursuit diving lifestyle convergently similar to that of the contemporaneous early penguins, and the later auks and plotopterids.
About 1.2m tall (~4′), it has a more slender spear-like beak than its relatives, with forward-pointing pseudotooth serrations. Like other pelagornithids these “teeth” are fairly fragile, so it feeds primarily on soft-bodied fish and squid, pursuing them underwater with wing-propelled underwater “flight”.
Much like procellariiformes they’re also rather stinky birds, producing musky preen oil and projectile vomiting foul-smelling stomach contents at threats and rivals.
And another anon wanted to see a “big flightless marine duck”:
Thalassonetta anambulatus is descended from the already mostly-flightless steamer ducks. At around 2m long (6’6″) it’s massive for a waterfowl, with vestigial wings and large webbed feet used to propel itself while diving.
With its rather elongated and heavy body and loon-like leg configuration it’s no longer able to walk on land – and it’s actually almost fully aquatic, only awkwardly hauling out into isolated island beaches to molt and breed.
It feeds mainly on molluscs, crustaceans, and other marine invertebrates, using the large lamellae in its bill to strain them out of soft seafloor sediments.
The big herbivorous moa-nalo weren’t the only unusual waterfowl on the ancient Hawaiian islands — and the island of Kauaʻi had a very odd duck indeed.
The Kauaʻi mole duck (Talpanas lippa) was fairly small, about 50cm long (1’8″), and although it lived alongside one of the moa-nalo species they don’t seem to have been closely related at all. It instead appears to have come from a different duck lineage entirely, with it’s closest living relatives potentially being the stiff-tailed ducks.
It had short chunky legs and an especially weird skull, with eyes so tiny and underdeveloped that it must have been near-blind and flightless. But the areas of its brain associated with the sense of touch were proportionally huge, and although the exact shape of its beak currently isn’t known it seems to have been very wide and flat.
It was probably a nocturnal bird that used an incredibly sensitive bill to grub around in the undergrowth for invertebrates, sort of an equivalent of the modern kiwi but with a face more like a platypus.
The only known Talpanas remains come from mid-Holocene deposits about 6000 years old, but since Kauaʻi is the geologically oldest of the main Hawaiian islands it may have existed there for several million years prior.
Like the moa-nalo it was likely driven to extinction due to human influences on its environment once Polynesian settlers reached the island, sometime between 300 CE and 1200 CE.
The islands of Hawaii are part of a larger archipelago formed via hotspot volcanism in the Pacific, and are quite geologically young — the oldest of the main islands was formed just slightly over 5 million years ago, and the youngest less than 0.5 million years ago.
Located almost 3700km (2300 miles) from the nearest continental shore, they’re the most isolated islands on Earth. Their native species are all descended from the rare colonization events that reached such a remote location, either via ocean rafting or island hopping from much older now-submerged islands northwest in the chain.
Like many other Pacific islands no land mammals ever reached Hawaii prior to human arrival, and so it was birds that ended up filling many of the vacant ecological niches.
The dominant herbivores of most the islands were the moa-nalo — no relation to the moa of New Zealand — a group of large flightless birds that resembled giant geese but were actually descended from ducks, with their closest living relative thought to be the modern Pacific black duck. They had reduced wings, chunky legs, and big heavy beaks, some featuring large serrations and others convergently resembling those of giant tortoises.
The Maui Nui large-billed moa-nalo (Thambetochen chauliodous) was one of the biggest species, about 90cm tall (~3′). It originally lived in the highlands of Maui Nui, a large island that formed over 1 million years ago — and when Maui Nui subsided and flooded about 200,000 years ago, it would have then occupied the resulting modern islands of Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and Kahoʻolawe.
Polynesians reached the Hawaiian islands sometime between 300 CE and 1200 CE (the exact dating seems to be controversial). The moa-nalo would have suffered the same fate as many other flightless island birds, lacking any instinctive fear of the new arrivals and falling prey to the invasive pigs, dogs, and rats they brought with them.
The turtle-jawed moa-nalo (Chelychelynechen quassus) was a large flightless goose-like duck from the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i. About 90cm tall (3′) and weighing around 7kg (15lbs), these birds and their relatives were descended from dabbling ducks and existed on most of the larger Hawaiian islands for the last 3 million years or so – before going extinct around 1000 years ago following the arrival of Polynesian settlers.
Chelychelynechen had an unusually-shaped bill, tall and broad with vertically-oriented nostrils, convergently similar to the beak of a turtle. It would have occupied the same sort of ecological niche as giant tortoises on other islands, filling the role of large herbivore in the absence of mammals.