Scientist Stumbles Onto Elusive Bird —Then Kills It
Christopher E. Filardi stirs up a controversy
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2015 6:30 PM CDT
A kingfisher flies over a pond in the village of Gorodok, 30 miles northwest of Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015.   (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

(Newser) – Christopher E. Filardi, a director at the American Museum of Natural History, stumbled upon an elusive male moustached kingfisher while on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands recently—and then killed it. In scientific terms, he "collected" it, but that means euthanasia, the Washington Post reports. Moustached kingfishers were first described in the 1920s, using a single female specimen; two more females were found by hunters and brought to collectors in the 1950s; the birds have only been "glimpsed in the wild once," and "scientists have never observed a male," Filardi wrote for the museum after finding the male. "Given its history of eluding detection, realistic hopes of finding the bird were slim," he continued, and he himself had been searching for almost two decades. When news broke that he'd found a male only to kill it, "outrage ensued," the Post reports. "Filardi's weak justification attempts to explain why science trumps common sense, decency, or morality," tweeted one prominent bird watcher in a typical sentiment.

In response to the backlash, Filardi wrote a piece for Audubon titled, "Why I Collected a Moustached Kingfisher." He explains that the decision to preserve the bird as part of the scientific record "was neither easy nor made in the spur of the moment," but that researchers estimated a population of more than 4,000, "a robust number." Yes, sightings of the bird and information about it are rare, but "the bird itself is not," nor is it in danger of extinction. "In this context, the decision to collect an individual specimen of the Moustached Kingfisher as part of our survey work reflects standard practice for field biologists," he writes. The Post notes that pro-collection scientists argue such practices can ultimately help ensure the survival of the species as a whole since scientists can use the specimen for important studies. Opponents, however, argue that collectors can get overzealous and hurt rare wildlife populations. (Our seabirds might be in trouble.)