lost birds

Our top “most wanted” lost birds include those species that have been lost to science for at least a decade (and often for much longer!) and, like our top 25 “most wanted” species, may be lost for a variety of reasons. We worked with the American Bird ConservancyBirdLife International and other partners to determine this list of lost birds. In some cases, biologists may be actively out searching—or interested in going out to search—for these species. In other cases, these species represent the kinds of compelling stories that can help raise their group’s public profile, even if nobody is out actively looking. They represent a broad geographical reach, and may present opportunities for inspiring conservation action.

himalayan quail
Scientific Name: OPHRYSIA SUPERCILIOSALast Seen: 1876 IN INDIAYears Lost: 143Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Himalayan Quails have distinctive red bills and legs, black face and throat with white forehead. They infrequently fly and usually only when flushed. This medium-sized quail belongs to the pheasant family and is known from only two locations in India. The species was first described in 1846 by J. E. Gray from living individuals in the collection of the Earl of Derby at Knowsley Hall. It was not found in the wild until 1865, when Kenneth Mackinnon shot a pair of quails. It was last seen only about a decade later.

Pink-headed Duck
Scientific Name: RHODONESSA CARYOPHYLLACEALast Seen: 1949 IN INDIAYear Found: TBDYears Lost: 71Red List Status: Critically Endangered

The Pink-headed Duck was always considered rare, but it has not been conclusively seen in the wild since 1949 in India and is known from Myanmar from only two individuals. Unconfirmed reports of Pink-headed Duck sightings in 2006 spurred conservationists to continue to look for it and to try to capture the first photos of a live bird, unsuccessfully. In addition to the deep pink head and neck found on male ducks, these birds lay spherical eggs and likely live in tall, thick elephant grasslands, swamps and floodplains.

In 2017, the Pink-headed Duck eluded a Search for Lost Species expedition team in Kachin State in Myanmar. The team’s Interviews with locals suggest that the bird likely spent time at Indawgyi Lake more recently than the last record of the species in Myanmar in 1910, maybe as recently as 2010. Re:wild is working with experts to plan the next expedition.

EXPEDITION TEAM MEMBERS INCLUDE: RICHARD THORNS

Sinú Parakeet
Scientific Name: PYRRHURA SUBANDINALast Seen: 1949 IN COLOMBIAYears Lost: 70Red List Status: Critically Endangered

This beautiful tropical parakeet is only known with certainty from the Sinú Valley in northern Colombia. BirdLife International estimates that if the bird is not already extinct, no more than 50 likely exist. Despite extensive searches, there have been no confirmed records of the parakeet since 1949. Scientists know very little about the Sinú Parakeet’s reproductive physiology, nutritional needs, ecology or behavior. There are 18 individuals known from four locations in Colombia, two of which have been deforested.

New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar
Scientific Name: AEGOTHELES SAVESILast Seen: 1998 IN NEW CALEDONIAYears Lost: 22Red List Status: Critically Endangered

The mysterious New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar was first seen in 1880 at Païta, near Nouméa. Since its discovery, other encounters with the species have been dishearteningly brief. The last possible sighting was in 1998 in the Rivière Ni Valley. The few individuals show a dusky, owlish creature with longish legs and a lengthy, slightly rounded tail; somewhat larger than its congeners. Very little is known of the nocturnal New Caledonian Nightjar, but it is probable that whatever tiny population persists remains confined to the remote reaches of forest massifs, such as at Kouakoue. That locals who were questioned knew nothing of its existence bodes ill for the singular bird. Without aid, the New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar population will continue to decline due to predation from invasive species, such as rats and feral cats. Logging and mining pose additional threats the species must contend with.

The multiple dangers accosting this enigmatic species calls for surveys to be conducted at and around the 1998 sighting location. Greater protection of Ni-Kouakoue could strengthen the bird's chances, as would an investigation of the efficacy and affordability of rat control in the area.

Makira Moorhen
Scientific Name: GALLINULA SILVESTRISLast Seen: 1953 ON THE SOLOMON ISLANDSYears Lost: 68Red List Status: Critically Endangered

A technicolor dream, the jewel-toned Makira Moorhen has been missing for more than half a century since it was last recorded in 1953 at Makira in the Solomon Islands. As a flightless and ground-dwelling bird, the Makira Moorhen is indeed rare, but its vibrant blue plumage, plus its red bill and legs render it striking and beautiful to behold. Unfortunately, few have had the privilege. Recent, weeklong surveys have yielded no sightings of the species. Expedition researchers conclude that if the bird still persists it is in few numbers. In 2004, claims were made of hearing its call, a high-pitched mewl akin to a cat’s meow.

The species is thought to dwell in rainforest on rocky hills amid small rivers. There is some speculation that the species may also reside in the unexplored swamps of north Makira. Introduced predators, such as feral cats and eye-attacking fire ants, have likely had a deleterious impact on the population. Tighter controls on logging and the creation of community-based protected areas are necessary to secure the future of the Makira Moorhen.

Red-throated Lorikeet
Scientific Name: CHARMOSYNA AMABILISLast Seen: 2002 ON THE FIJI ISLANDSYears Lost: 19Red List Status: Critically Endangered

A veritable cocktail of color—vibrant red, lime green, mustard yellow—the Red-throated Lorikeet once flitted and squeaked on the islands of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Ovalau, Fiji. While always rare, the species has grievously declined in the last century. While the last well-documented sighting of the Red-throated Lorikeet was in 2002 on the island of Viti Levu; the second most recent sighting occurred a decade earlier in 1993; and the one before, decades earlier in 1965. The extended gaps between confirmed sightings indicate a population long fluttering on the brink. Hundreds of hours of recent searches in the species’ historic range have produced zero findings; scientists now fear possible extirpation on Viti Levu, once a Red-throated Lorikeet stronghold.

Usually found high in the canopy, the lorikeet feeds on the nectar and pollen of flowering trees located in primary forest. Reliant on old-growth forest, susceptible to predation, and having a montane distribution, the Red-throated Lorikeet is extremely vulnerable to threats; namely, ongoing deforestation throughout Fiji, introduced predators, particularly the Black Rat, and a rising climate. More surveys in Viti Levu and Taveuni must be undertaken to confirm the Red-throated Lorikeet’s existence.

Guanacaste Hummingbird
Scientific Name: AMAZILLA ALFAROANALast Seen: 1895 IN COSTA RICAYears Lost: 125 YEARSRed List Status: Critically Endangered

No one living today has seen the Guanacaste Hummingbird, giving it the feel of the mythological. At least, that is the general consensus. We can only confirm the hummingbird's existence from a single individual collected in 1895. Indeed, the species was only recognized as its own species in 2016 after further analysis of that individual.

The species was last and only seen at the Miravalles Volcano in Costa Rica. Attempts to find the species since have so far been unsuccessful, but it is unclear how in-depth these searches were. Fortunately, the forested area where the lost bird originates remains relatively intact, so if a population persists, there is a chance it is stable. Nevertheless, given its last confirmed sighting was in the 19th century, whatever population remains must be quite small and therefore, still at risk. More targeted searches in the Miravalles Volcano area and the Tilarán Highlands are urgently needed to ascertain the species' existence and ensure its survival.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Scientific Name: CAMPEPHILUS PRINCIPALISLast Seen: 1987 IN THE UNITED STATESYears Lost: 76 (BUT STRONGLY DEBATED)Red List Status: Critically Endangered

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker has captured the minds and hearts of many an avid birdwatcher and ornithologist. Once found in bottomland hardwood and montane forests in the Southeastern United States and in Cuba, the bird has not been seen (and one must tread carefully here) in more than 20 years. Dozens of researchers and birdwatchers alike have come forward with claims that they have seen the bird; some even yielding photos and videos as murky and unclear as those chronicling yet another North American legend: Bigfoot.

Measuring roughly 20 inches long, with a 30-inch wingspan, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is only slightly smaller than Bigfoot, maybe. With its distinctive, large bill, mostly black plumage, and exquisite white stripes extending from cheek to mantle, the species is striking, and one would think hard to miss. However, the species bears a resemblance to another woodpecker species found in similar regions, the Pileated Woodpecker. Though smaller, the latter is often mistaken for the former.

While its continued prevalence remains hotly debated, there is no question that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is teetering on the edge of extinction. Evidence suggests the species requires large tracts of unfragmented forest to thrive, and extensive habitat loss in their historic range has made such an ideal virtually impossible. If the Ivory-billed Woodpecker survives, large, targeted searches are necessary to ascertain the number of individuals and at last demonstrate undeniable proof of its existence. Experts say the best chance for a rediscovery is likely in Cuba.

Kinglet Calyptura
Scientific Name: CALYPTURA CRISTATALast Seen: 1996 IN BRAZILYears Lost: 25 YEARSRed List Status: Critically Endangered

Similar in coloring to a pimento olive, the lovely Kinglet Calyptura teased the world with its presence in 1996 after more than 100 years of missing in action. Thought to be extinct at the time, two individuals were miraculously spotted over a period of several days in the Serra dos Órgãos, located north of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Reputable individuals reported sightings after the 1996 rediscovery, but secondary observers were unable to relocate the birds and recent search efforts have been unsuccessful. Worries of extinction loom large yet again.

Habitat loss attributed to diamond and gold mining, as well as the introduction of coffee plantations likely drove the species to its precarious state. Research indicates the small bird may be a seasonal altitudinal migrant, sequestered in the canopy and particularly drawn to bromeliads and mistletoe. Surveys centering on the Serra dos Órgãos region, and the state of São Paulo, are desperately needed. Moreover, preliminary conservation action must be taken to protect the remaining low-altitude forests of the 1996 rediscovery region, habitat essential for the species' posterity.

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