A bird thought to be extinct 140 years ago has been re-discovered in the forests of Papua New Guinea.
The black-naped pheasant dove has been documented by scientists for the first and last time in 1882, according to a press release from the nonprofit organization Re:wild, which helped fund the research effort.
The bird’s rediscovery required an expedition team to spend a grueling month on Ferguson Island, the rugged island in the D’Entrecasteaux archipelago off eastern Papua New Guinea where the bird was originally documented. The team consists of local staff at the Papua New Guinea National Museum as well as international scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy.
Ferguson Island is covered in rugged, mountainous terrain – making the expedition particularly challenging for scientists. The press release says several community members told the team they had not seen a black-naped pheasant in decades.
But just two days before the researchers were due to leave the island, a trap camera captured footage of an extremely rare bird.
“After a month of searching, seeing those first pheasant-dove images felt like finding a rhino,” John C. Mittermeyer, director of the American Bird Conservancy’s Lost Bird Program and co-leader of the expedition, said in the statement. . “It’s that moment when you dream about your entire life as an environmental advocate and bird watcher.”
According to the statement, the black-naped pheasant pigeon is a large ground-dwelling pigeon with a broad tail. Scientists still know little about the species and believe the population is small and declining.
Insight from the locals was crucial for the scientists to track down the elusive bird.
Jason Gregg, a conservation biologist and co-leader of the expedition team, said in the release. “We became more confident about the local name for the bird, ‘Auwo’ and felt we were getting closer to the primary habitat where the black pheasant lives.”
They placed a total of 12 camera traps on the slopes of Mount Kilkaran, the highest mountain on the island. They placed eight more cameras at locations where local fishermen reported seeing the bird in the past.
A hunter named Augustin Gregory, based in the mountain village of Doda Onona, made the latest feat that helped scientists locate the pheasant pigeon.
Gregory told the team that he saw the black-naped pheasant in an area with “steep hills and valleys,” the press release reads. The bird’s distinctive calls have been heard.
So the expedition team placed a camera on a 3,200-foot-high ridge near the Kwama River above Doda Ununa, according to the release. Finally, once their journey was over, they took footage of a bird walking on the forest floor.
This discovery came as a shock to scientists and the local community alike.
Serena Kitaluya, a conservationist from Milne Bay in PNG, said in the news release. “They are now looking forward to working with us to try to protect the pheasant.”
It remains unclear how many black-naped pheasants remain, and the rough terrain will make population identification difficult. A two-week survey in 2019 failed to find any evidence of the bird, although it did uncover some reports from hunters that helped locate the 2022 flight.
The discovery may provide hope that other bird species thought to be extinct may still be out there.
“This rediscovery is a wonderful beacon of hope for other birds that have been lost for half a century or more,” Christina Biggs, director of lost species research at Re:wild, said in the release. “The terrain the team explored was very challenging, but their determination never wavered, even though very few people can remember seeing a pheasant dove in recent decades.”