'Extinct' Bird Not Seen Since 1941 Suddenly Reappears
Wildlife Conservation Society
The Jerdon's babbler has been re-discovered near an abandoned agricultural research station in Myanmar.
Joseph Tenne/Audubon Photography Award
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A conservation research team in Myanmar got a local call from the distant past when a bird long thought to be extinct suddenly chirped and begged to differ. And with that the Myanmar Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) was back in the birding phone book (for those who remember those big blocky books with phone numbers in them).
While surveying grasslands near the town of Myitkyo in May 2014, a team comprised of researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Myanmar's Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) heard the call of the long-lost babbler.
The team quickly played back a recording of the call, and soon an adult Jerdon's babbler, a bird not seen in Myanmar since 1941, came into view.
After that first encounter, it got even better. It was Jerdon's babblers aplenty, as over the next two days the team found the suddenly conspicuous birds in multiple locations near the first call.
A Jerdon's babbler is small and brown -- about the size of an ordinary house sparrow. It was first described in 1862 and was a common sight in Myanmar at the start of the 20th century, in wide-ranging grasslands around the Yangon region that were lost over time to agriculture and community development.
"The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon’s babbler extinct," explained Colin Poole, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's efforts in Singapore. "This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well."
The re-discovered Myanmar babbler is at this point considered one of three Jerdon's babbler subspecies found in river basins in South Asia (Terai and Sind are the other subspecies). But DNA samples and audio recordings obtained from the newfound birds should help researchers determine whether or not the Myanmar Jerdon's babbler should be a full species in its own right.
"Our sound recordings indicate that there may be pronounced bio-acoustic differences between the Myanmar subspecies and those further west, and genetic data may well confirm the distinctness of the Myanmar population," noted Frank Rheindt, an assistant professor in the NUS Department of Biological Sciences.
If it does become its own species, the Myanmar Jerdon's babbler would immediately garner concern for its survival due to its threatened habitat, the researchers suggested.
"Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from [the birds]," Poole said.
The re-emergence of the Myanmar Jerdon's babbler was recently described in the journal Birding Asia.