Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

10 bird species that need our help now

Distinctive forehead bristles give Stresemann’s Bristlefront its name. The long-tailed bird was feared lost until a single female was found in 2018. (The bird in the picture is a male.) Photo by Ciro Albano

Stresemann’s Bristlefront

Where it lives: Brazil

Known population: 1

An elusive ground nester with a tuft of forehead feathers, the Stresemann’s Bristlefront dwells in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a biodiversity hotspot that has lost over 90 percent of its original habitat.

After going unseen for five decades, the bristlefront was rediscovered in 1995, though not until several years later did researchers pinpoint the site of a tiny population (of perhaps 10 or 15 birds). With help from American Bird Conservancy and other organizations, a Brazilian nonprofit protected that area in 2007, establishing the Mata do Passarinho (Songbird Forest) Reserve, which has since grown to 2,352 acres.

All seemed on the right track. But then a drought hit, drying up streams, and in 2016 an out-of-control fire set by a nearby landowner whipped through the reserve. The entire bristlefront population was feared wiped out — that is, until a lone female was observed singing just outside the reserve in 2018. (Presumably the same female, nicknamed “Hope,” was spotted again in 2019.)

Amy Upgren, an Alliance for Zero Extinction program officer at American Bird Conservancy, says she gets “this eerie feeling, like, ‘Am I hearing the last of its kind?’” when listening to a recording of Hope’s song.

Stresemann’s Bristlefronts are notoriously difficult to find, Upgren stresses, so she’s cautiously optimistic that a partner for Hope will turn up, either at the Songbird Forest Reserve or on one of the privately owned forest patches nearby. “We don’t believe in triage,” Upgren says. “We don’t believe in giving up on any bird species just because their numbers are low.”

Sadly, the Stresemann’s Bristlefront is not the only Atlantic Forest bird in serious trouble. The Cherry-throated Tanager, for example, is down to around 30 birds, whereas the Alagoas Curassow is extinct in the wild.

How to help: American Bird Conservancy is raising money to search for more bristlefronts. Each campaign costs about $7,000. Donate through ABC’s website or mail a check to American Bird Conservancy, P.O. Box 249, The Plains, VA 20198.

Brazil’s Blue-eyed Ground-Dove was presumed extinct for 74 years until it was rediscovered in 2015. The entire species occurs in one park. Photo by Ciro Albano

Blue-eyed Ground-Dove

Where it lives: Brazil

Estimated population: 25

Adjacent to the Atlantic Forest lies the cerrado, or tropical savanna, another highly imperiled ecosystem that’s home to the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove. Unseen for 74 years, this species was presumed extinct until 2015, when a Brazilian ornithologist flushed one out upon hearing an unfamiliar call.

Local and international conservation groups immediately sprang into action, purchasing a reserve that safeguarded the area from being mined for iron ore. Concurrently, the state government established an 88,175-acre park. All known Blue-eyed Ground-Doves now reside on protected land.

As Bennett Hennessey, American Bird Conservancy’s Brazil program coordinator, points out, however, the state park lacks funding. “This is a poor rural area, and so protection will not happen like in the USA,” Hennessey says, adding that it’s “very important” for conservation groups to be involved in the management plan, which may soon include a captive-breeding program.

Much about the bird remains a mystery. Scientists don’t yet even know its exact habitat preferences, nor do they understand why it seemingly struggles to reproduce (one theory holds that it depends on a rare plant for nesting material).

More research will surely come with more surprises. “It has been seen foraging in shallow streams,” Hennessey says, “which is very weird for a ground-dove.”

How to help: Donate through ABC’s website or mail a check to American Bird Conservancy, P.O. Box 249, The Plains, VA 20198. Alternatively, visit the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove Nature Reserve in Brazil (entrance fee: $35 per day).

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free

Jesse Greenspan

Jesse Greenspan is a Berkeley-based freelance journalist who writes about history and the environment. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, Audubon, the History Channel, and other outlets.

Jesse Greenspan on social media