A bird thought extinct for 140 years has been rediscovered in the forests of Papua New Guinea.
Black-necked pheasant pigeon documented by scientists The first and last time was in 1882, according to a newsletter from Re:wild, a nonprofit that helps fund search efforts.
Rediscovering the bird required an expedition team to spend a rough month on Fergusson, a rugged island in the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago off eastern Papua New Guinea where the bird was originally documented. The team consisted of local staff at the National Museum of Papua New Guinea, as well as international scientists from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy.
Fergusson Island is covered by rugged, mountainous terrain, making the expedition particularly challenging for scientists. The news release stated that many members of the community told the team they had not seen the black-necked pheasant pigeon in decades.
But just two days before researchers were scheduled to leave the island, a camera trap captured images of the extremely rare bird.
“After a month of research, seeing the first photos of the pheasant pigeon felt like finding a unicorn,” said John C. Mittermeier, director of the lost birds program at the American Bird Conservancy and co-leader of the expedition. release “The kind of moment you’ve dreamed of your entire life as a conservationist and birdwatcher.”
According to the description, the black-necked pheasant pigeon is a large ground-dwelling pigeon with a broad tail. Scientists still know very little about the species and believe the population is small and declining.
Local residents’ insights were crucial to helping scientists find the elusive bird.
“It wasn’t until we reached the villages on the western slope of Mt. that we began meeting with hunters who had seen and heard of the pheasant pigeon,” Conservation biologist and expedition co-leader Jason Gregg, in the newsletter, told Kilkerran. and we felt we were approaching the main habitat of the black-necked pheasant-pigeon.”
They placed a total of 12 camera traps on the slopes of Mt. Kilkerran, the highest mountain on the island. And they installed eight more cameras where local hunters reported seeing the bird in the trap.
A hunter named Augustin Gregory, who lives in the mountain village of Duda Ununa, provided the latest invention that helped scientists find the pheasant pigeon.
In the news release, Gregory told the team he saw the black-necked pheasant pigeon in an area with “steep ridges and valleys.” And he had heard the distinctive calls of the bird.
According to the statement, the expedition team placed a camera on a 3,200-foot-high ridge near the Kwama River above Duda Ununa. And finally, just as their journey was coming to an end, they captured images of the bird walking on the forest floor.
The discovery came as a shock to both scientists and the local community.
“Communities were very excited when they saw the survey results, because not many people had seen or heard of the bird until we started our project and received the camera trap photos,” said Serena Ketaloya, a nature conservationist from Milne Bay, Papua New. Guinea, in the newsletter. “Now they look forward to working with us to protect the pheasant pigeon.”
It is still unclear how many of the black-necked pheasant pigeons remain, and the rough terrain will make population identification difficult. A two-week study in 2019 found no evidence of the bird, but did uncover some reports from hunters that helped pinpoint the locations of the 2022 expedition.
And the discovery may offer hope that other bird species thought to be extinct are still out there somewhere.
“This rediscovery is an incredible glimmer of hope for other birds that have been lost for half a century or more,” said Christina Biggs, director of the Search for Lost Species at Re:wild. “The terrain the team was looking for was incredibly difficult, but their determination has never been shaken, although few people remember seeing a pheasant pigeon in recent years.”
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