A bird thought to be extinct for 140 years has been rediscovered in the forests of Papua New Guinea.
The black-naped pheasant-pigeon has been documented by scientists for the first and last time in 1882, according to a press release from the nonprofit Re:wild, which helped fund the research effort.
To rediscover the bird, an expedition team had to spend a grueling month on Fergusson, a rugged island in the Entrecasteaux Archipelago off eastern Papua New Guinea, where the bird was originally documented. The team consisted of local staff from the National Museum of Papua New Guinea as well as international scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy.
Fergusson Island is covered in rugged, mountainous terrain, making the expedition particularly challenging for scientists. Many community members told the team that they had not seen the black-naped pheasant-pigeon in decades, the press release said.
But just two days before the researchers left the island, a camera trap captured images of the exceptionally rare bird.
“After a month of research, seeing these first photos of the pigeon-pheasant was like finding a unicorn,” said John C. Mittermeier, director of the Lost Birds Program at the American Bird Conservancy and co-lead of the shipment, in the press release. . “This is the kind of moment you dream of all your life as an ecologist and birder.”
The black-naped pheasant-pigeon is a large ground pigeon with a broad tail, according to the statement. Scientists still know little about the species and believe the population to be small and declining.
The insight of local residents was crucial for scientists to track down the elusive bird.
“It wasn’t until we reached villages on the western slopes of Mount Kilkerran that we started encountering hunters who had seen and heard the pheasant-pigeon,” said Jason Gregg, conservation biologist and co- expedition team leader. The version. “We became more confident about the bird’s local name, which is ‘Auwo’, and felt like we were getting closer to the main habitat where the black-naped pheasant-pigeon lives.”
They placed a total of 12 camera traps on the slopes of Mount Kilkerran, which is the highest mountain on the island. And they placed eight more cameras in places where local hunters said they had seen the bird in the past.
A hunter named Augustin Gregory, based in the mountain village of Duda Ununa, provided the final breakthrough that helped scientists locate the pheasant-pigeon.
Gregory told the team he saw the black-naped pheasant-pigeon in an area with “steep ridges and valleys,” the press release said. And he had heard the distinctive calls of the bird.
The expedition team therefore placed a camera on a 3,200ft high ridge near the Kwama River above Duda Ununa, the statement said. And finally, just as their journey was ending, they captured footage of the bird walking on the forest floor.
The discovery came as a shock to scientists and the local community.
“Communities were very excited when they saw the results of the survey, as many people had not seen or heard of the bird until we started our project and got the pictures. camera trap,” said Serena Ketaloya, an environmentalist from Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Guinea, in the press release. “They are now looking forward to working with us to try and protect the pigeon pheasant.”
It’s still unclear how many black-naped pheasants are left, and the rugged terrain will make it difficult to identify the population. A two-week investigation in 2019 found no evidence of the bird, although it did uncover reports from hunters that helped determine locations for the 2022 expedition.
And the discovery could give hope that other bird species once thought to be extinct are still out there somewhere.
“This rediscovery is an incredible beacon of hope for other birds that have been lost for half a century or more,” Christina Biggs, head of lost species research at Re:wild, said in the statement. “The ground the team searched was incredibly difficult, but their resolve never wavered, even though few people remembered seeing the pigeon-pheasant in decades past.”