The “black-haired pigeon pheasant” has been found after 140 years

The discovery of a new species is always a great success for biologists. But rediscovering one, lost to science, is the culmination of a true treasure hunt. Such a search was successfully completed by The Search for the Lost Birds (“the search for lost birds“, in French), a collaboration between the organizations Re:wild, the American Bird Conservancy and BirdLife International. A bird of the species Otidiphaps insularis was found on an island in Papua New Guinea after a 140-year disappearance.

Discovered at the last moment

An expedition set foot on Fergusson Island in early September 2022. Members then traversed the region for a month, questioning locals about the bird’s presence. After gathering valuable information, particularly from local hunters who believe they have occasionally seen specimens, the researchers placed 20 camera traps in strategic locations, including a slope of Mount Kilkerran, the highest mountain on the island, where the bird could point the tip of the beak. And this tedious work paid off: a black-naped pheasant pigeon, as English speakers call it because of its appearance, finally appeared on the pictures.

When we finally found the black-napped pheasant-pigeon, it was during the last hours of the expedition, explains in a press release published on November 21, 2022 Doka Nason, the member of the team that set up the camera trap that eventually photographed the bird. When I saw the photos I was incredibly excited“.

A first since 1882

The specimen was filmed in a dense forest. The photographs and videos are now the first scientific documentation of this species since 1882, when it was first described. Initial results indicate that its population is small and possibly declining. Furthermore, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed it in the “Critically Endangered” category in its Red List.

But things could change: after this research, the local community has decided to invest in the protection of this black-haired pheasant pigeon. “This rediscovery is an incredible beacon of hope for other birds lost for half a century or more“, assures in a second press release Christina Biggs, manager of Re:wild. “As well as providing hope for the search for other lost species, the detailed information the team gleaned has provided a basis for the conservation of this extremely rare bird, which must indeed be highly threatened.“, insists Roger Safford, manager of BirdLife International.

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