Scientists find small bird ‘thought to be extinct’ for first time in 74 years in Myanmar

The Jerdon's babbler has been spotted for the first time in 74 years. Source: Facebook
The Jerdon’s babbler has been spotted for the first time in 74 years. Source: Facebook

It’s been 74 years since this incredibly rare bird was last seen – either in the wild or in captivity – and as a result the scientific community had long written them off as extinct.

However, that all changed after a team of American researchers on assignment in Myanmar made an amazing discovery of several of these rare creatures in their natural habitat, where they have apparently been overlooked for decades.

The team from the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reportedly made the amazing find near a town in the Bago Region of Myanmar, in the south of the country near the border with Thailand. The bird in question was a local sub-species of the Jerdon’s babbler, a small brown bird found throughout Asia.

Incredibly, the last confirmed sighting of the Myanmar Jerdon’s babbler sub-species was made back in 1941.

In the intervening years, there have been no confirmed sightings of the local Jerdon’s babbler – but that’s not for lack of trying. Teams of researchers – both local and international – have made field visits to the grasslands of Myanmar’s Bago Region in attempts to find it over the years.

However, all previous expeditions have been unsuccessful, and for decades the Myanmar Jerdon’s babbler has been listed as officially extinct.

All that changed after the WCS team discovered not one, but a whole group of the small birds while visiting an abandoned agricultural station on an unrelated research project. One of the members of the team described the surreal experience of hearing the call of the bird before actually seeing it.

Long time, no see for this rare bird.
Long time, no see for this rare bird.

“All of a sudden my ears pricked up,” he told local journalists. “There are recordings that were made, of course, of the babbler’s distinctive call back when it was first discovered, and any well-read ornithologist would be able to distinguish the call instantly. Of course, the fact that it’s been extinct for the past 70 years made me think someone was pulling a prank!”

The researchers at first accused each other of mimicking the babbler’s call, but they were stunned when they heard another call from surrounding bushland. “We thought, maybe, just maybe, we’d somehow stumbled upon some living specimens. It was an exciting moment.”

The team tried to locate the source of the call, but the dense bush hindered their progress. “We were loathe to cut our way into the babbler’s habitat for fear of damaging their nests,” said the researcher. “One of our team had the brilliant idea of recording the call on his phone, and then playing it back on repeat.” The plan was a success, with the recorded call luring several of the birds out of their nests and into the open.

The team spent the next two days at the site, documenting their discovery and taking samples which would later confirm the birds in question were legitimate Jerdon’s babblers.

“Not that there was any doubt,” explained the researcher, “as the call of the babbler is so distinctive that we were convinced of our findings before running genetic tests.”

The researchers are now working closely with local villagers in the area to develop a conservation and monitoring program to ensure the long-term survival of the birds.

“It would be devastating after 70 years to finally discover some of these birds and then have them back on the extinction list in a short time. We want to make sure their habitat here is protected and they can flourish long into the future.”

Teams of local scientists are planning to conduct a full-scale study to determine the population numbers of the Jerdon’s babbler in the region. There’s also hope that other rare species of birds, thought to be endangered or close to extinction, may also be living in the area.

“We weren’t even looking for these birds, when we stumbled upon them by luck,” said the American researcher. “There’s no telling what other species could be found in this area, and the prospects of making other valuable discoveries are high.”