A small bird thought to have been extinct and not seen in 73 years was overheard by scientists while surveying the grasslands of Myanmar.
After hearing the bird’s distinct call, the scientists played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon’s babbler. Over the next 48 hours, the team repeatedly found Jerdon’s babblers at several locations in the area and managed to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs.
The team, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Myanmar’s Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, and National University of Singapore reported the rediscovery in the recently published issue of Birding Asia, the magazine of the Oriental Bird Club.
The team found the bird (Chrysomma altirostre), which had no confirmed sightings since 1941, on May 30, 2014 .
At the beginning of the 20th century, the species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains around Yangon. Since then, agriculture and communities have gradually covered the habitat as the area developed.
Said Mr Colin Poole, Director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore, “The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon’s Babbler extinct. This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well. Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them.”
The Jerdon’s Babbler in Myanmar is currently considered as one of three subspecies found in the river basins in South Asia. All show subtle differences and may yet prove to be distinctive species.
Myanmar has more species of bird than any other country in mainland Southeast Asia and this number is likely to increase as our understanding of birds in this long isolated country continues to grow.
Photo credit: Robert Tizard / Wildlife Conservation Society