Nobody Had Seen One of These in 170 Years

Black-browed babbler was feared to be extinct
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2021 10:30 AM CST
170 Years Later, a Long-Lost Bird Is Back
The black-browed babbler.   (Naturalis Biodiversity Center/Wikimedia Commons)

It's not extinct, just very elusive. That's the takeaway from the discovery of a bird in Indonesia that has ornithologists downright emotional. The bird is the black-browed babbler, which hadn't been seen since the 1840s, reports Mongabay. Two men caught one in a Borneo rainforest and sent photos to experts because they couldn't identify it. "When we actually got confirmation of the identification, I did a little prayer and bowed down to celebrate," ornithologist Panji Gusti Akbar tells the New York Times. He's the lead author of a new paper on the find. Another top ornithologist in the region tells the newspaper he teared up upon confirmation, likening the moment to what would happen if the passenger pigeon were rediscovered in the US. The bird was released alive and well back into the wild, and ornithologists plan expeditions to the region once COVID allows.

"We suspect that this bird might actually have been around this area for quite a long time," Akbar tell Mongabay. "It's just that there is nobody coming to see them ... nobody who knows how to identify birds." Only one stuffed specimen of the bird exists, and while the modern one has slightly different coloring, ornithologists chalk up those differences to the logistics of taxidermy. One thing tempering the excitement: The region where the bird was found in lowland Borneo has undergone massive deforestation, reports the Guardian. Which means the elusive bird may not be extinct, but it's likely facing the very real threat of habitat loss. Still, the small creature described in a definitive birding guide as "one of the great enigmas of Indonesian ornithology" is now less of an enigma. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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