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International project is searching for lost birds

An international effort of massive proportions is underway to search for ten rare species of birds that are now lost to science. The project is a part of the much bigger Search for Lost Species Program created by Re:wild in 2017. 

“During the past five years, since we launched the Search for Lost Species, our list of species that could be considered lost has grown to more than 2,000,” said Barney Long, senior director for conservation strategies with Re:wild.

“We never planned to look for all of them alone, but to encourage others to search and develop partnerships to help. Through this new partnership we’ll be able to get more targeted expeditions in the field. If we can find these lost birds, conservationists can better protect them from the threats they face.”

The search for lost birds hopes to capitalize on the very active community of bird watchers and the citizen science they provide to researchers. One such online community is eBird, which has 700,000 registered users who have contributed more than one billion bird sightings. 

Unfortunately, of the many eBird sightings, none have involved the most wanted 10 lost bird species. Even though these birds have not been documented for at least ten years, the species have not been officially declared as extinct. 

There are various reasons for the undocumented status of the lost birds. Habitat destruction, invasive species and other factors have contributed to declines. Some species may simply live in areas that are hard to legally access. In other cases,  scientists may not know where to search for the birds. 

Collectively, these ten lost bird species are found on five continents and range from hummingbirds to raptors. The Negros Fruit Dove and the Siau Scops-owl, for example, have only one documented sighting each in 1953 and the mid-1800s respectively. 

Two expeditions are preparing to head into the field and start the search within the next year. These searches are for the Siau Scops-owl in Indonesia and the Dusky tetraka in Madagascar. One bird, the South Island kōkao of New Zealand is already the focus of an ongoing search.

Recent searches for lost species – even those that were unsuccessful such as a search for the Sinù parakeet in Colombia earlier this year – have still managed to document an abundance of previously unknown biodiversity. 

After all, the search for lost species is really about protecting our planet’s rich life before it’s truly lost for good. 

The Search for Lost Species project is a collaboration between Re:wild, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and BirdLife International. The program is also lent by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its eBird platform. 

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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