In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here’s a question from our October 2015 issue:
The news of the recently rediscovered Colombian hummingbird, the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest, last seen in 1946, made me wonder how many other birds thought to be extinct have been rediscovered. — Elizabeth Green, Kirkland, Washington
Birds that went unrecorded even longer than the helmetcrest have been rediscovered just in the last decade. Examples include Jerdon’s Babbler, last seen in Myanmar (Burma) in 1941 and found again in 2014; Sillem’s Mountain-finch, described in 1992 from two specimens collected in China in 1929, then not seen again until 2012; and Banggai Crow, of Indonesia, rediscovered in 2007 after having not been seen since the late 1880s. One of the longest-missing birds to be rediscovered is New Zealand Storm-Petrel. It was known conclusively only from specimens and thought extinct since the 1850s but refound in 2003.
A study published in 2011 concluded that 144 bird species had been rediscovered over the last century or so — but we should not assume that extinction is not forever. In many cases, a lack of evidence of existence can be due to inadequate fieldwork, the remoteness or insecurity of a bird’s range, or difficulty in detection. BirdLife International estimates we have lost more than 150 bird species since 1500, and the pace of extinction is accelerating.
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.
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