Explained: How after 170 years a ‘lost’ bird was found in the jungles of Indonesian Borneo

Between 1843 and 1848, a German naturalist by the name of Carl Schwaner, roaming the dense rainforests of Borneo, came across a small, brown-gray songbird with a distinct broad black eye stripe running all around its head. .

For more than 170 years after this report, this unique specimen represented the only recorded sighting of this bird species – the species’ holotype is now in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. Until the end of last year.

The return of the bulletin board

On October 5, 2020, a solitary black-browed bulletin board (Malacocincla perspicillata) was spotted and captured alive by two local residents in Southeast Kalimantan, the part of Borneo administered by Indonesia. The discovery was reported on February 25 in BirdingASIA, the biannual newsletter of the Oriental Bird Club.

“No Asian bird has been extinct for as long as the Indonesian black-browed Babbler Malacocincla perspicillata,” the authors of the short article wrote. [‘Missing for 170 years — the rediscovery of Black-browed Babbler Malacocincla perspicillata on Borneo’: BirdingASIA 34 (2020); Panji Gusti Akbar et al.]

“On October 5, 2020, we observed a live specimen of the Black-browed Babbler in Southeast Kalimantan, the first sighting of this species in 170 years. The bird was obtained by two local residents after being sighted several times during their daily visits to the forest. Based on photographs taken of the bird during its temporary captivity (before its eventual release into the wild), we took detailed notes.

Akbar, the lead author of the article who is an ornithologist with the tourism company Birdpacker Indonesia, told reporters that he received a photo of the bird through WhatsApp and, after going through his field guides, had found it to match the black-eyed bulletin board. It was such a shock that he couldn’t initially believe what he was seeing.

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“I contacted as many top birders as possible, and they all agreed that there was no other bird that [it] looks [like] other than a black-eyed bulletin board, ”Akbar told Mongabay, the nonprofit US-based conservation and environment information platform. “It blew me away.”

Appearance of the bird

Akbar and his colleagues wrote that the bird was large, with a “relatively short tail and sturdy beak” similar to the holotype. “The upperparts were a rich brown, while the underparts up to the breast were greyish with fine white streaks. The bird’s facial appearance was very distinct, the crown being brown-brown, demarcated by a broad black ocular band extending through the malars to the nape and sides of the neck… The irises were of a deep red and unlike the holotype, which received yellowish artificial eyes. The legs were dark slate gray… ”

Black-browed babbler, Indonesian black-browed babbler, Borneo, Malacocincla perspicillata, birds of Indonesia, Kalimantan, Indian Express explained Black-browed Babbler Malacocincla perspicillatum, invisible for 170 years, South Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, October 2020 (Photo credit: Muhammad Rizky Fauzan, from the journal Missing for 170 years – the rediscovery of Black-Browed Babbler Malacocincla perspicillata on Borneo ‘: Birdwatching ASIA 34 (2020); Panji Gusti Akbar et al.)

Akbar told Mongabay that they suspected that “this bird might actually be in this area for quite a long time … It’s just that no one comes to see them … no one knows how to identify the birds.

No data on numbers

It is in fact possible that there are other individuals of the species in the jungles of Indonesia – a New York Times report on the rediscovery of the black-browed talker said that local males Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan “were curious about the identity of a black and brown bird that they sometimes saw fluttering around on their travels through the forest of South Kalimantan”, and eventually “managed to catch one of the birds and send photos to Joko Said Trisiyanto, member of BW Galeatus’, a bird watching group that was formed in Indonesian Borneo in 2016. It was Trisiyanto who forwarded the photos to Akbar.

That said, however, absolutely nothing is known about the size of this population – if there is one. The conservation status of the species is listed in the “Data Deficient” category of the IUCN Red List. IUCN states that “the size of the world’s population has not been quantified, but the species is described as possibly extinct and known only from a single specimen,” according to del Hoyo et al. , 2007.