How do you tell when a bird is really extinct?

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BirdLife International is launching a global bid to try to confirm the continued existence of 47 species of bird that have not been seen for up to 184 years.

The list of potentially lost birds is a tantalising mix of species ranging from some inhabiting the least visited places on earth – such as remote islands and the western Himalayas – to those occurring in parts of Europe and the United States.

“The mention of species such as Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Jamaican Petrel, Hooded Seedeater, Himalayan Quail, and Pink-headed Duck will set scientists’ pulses racing. Some of these species haven’t been seen by any living person, but birdwatchers around the world still dream of rediscovering these long lost ghosts”, said Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International’s chief executive.

“History has shown us that we shouldn’t give up on species that are feared to have gone to their graves because some, such as Cebu Flowerpecker, have been rediscovered long after they were feared extinct, providing hope for the continued survival of other ‘long-lost’ species. Cebu Flowerpecker, of the Philippines, was only rediscovered at the eleventh hour just before the last remnants of its forest home were destroyed.”

“The extinction crisis is gathering momentum, but that’s no excuse for humanity to allow even more strands from the web of life to disappear, especially without giving them a final chance of life.”

The announcement of the quest to find lost species is being made at the launch of the 21st British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water. The event, which continues over the weekend, is expected to attract in excess of 20,000 birdwatchers from across the UK. Funds raised from this year’s event will go to the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme to help fund these searches.

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0 thoughts on “How do you tell when a bird is really extinct?

  1. “…will set scientists’ pulses racing”
    Um, not so much. Maybe most ornithologists, though there are at least a few I know who would respond with “meh”.

    Not that I don’t think the effort is good and all, but many birders really rub me the wrong way. I can get that birds are pretty cool and that birding can be a really fun hobby (and good excuse to go cool places to boot), but my god, most are worse that Trekies. At least most Trekies get that they have an odd obsession that is really not that important.

    I could care less about the Ivory-billed woodpecker, unless of course I get a grant to study them 😉
    Really, the loss of individual bird species is not all that significant. Aves generally doesn’t seem to have much difficulty forming new species and filling available niches. The baseline turnover rates appear pretty high too.

    What does generally matter to scientists (well biologists) are things like the population crashes in songbirds. Individual species aren’t the point, just a symptom.

  2. Very good point! I’m seeing fewer and fewer birds of all kinds, even sparrows, pigeons, and starlings, but there’s nothing in the news about it.

    I guess, “Guys… the boat’s sinking” is old news.

  3. Kind of a side note. In the late 1980’s we did a study of the northern studfish in Indiana. It is listed as a species of special concern. Historical records were a few individuals from maybe a half dozen localities. We found it widespread and numerous. However, it was not present at any of the historical localities because of present day lack of suitable habitat.

    I guess the point is to look at historical record localities, then go look for the right kind of habitat elsewhere.

  4. Travc-

    What’s your problem? And what does your personal opinion of birders (or the IBWO) have anything to do with the recovery of “extinct” species? Birding may not be scientifically important, but it has an economic impact on conservation that other sports (or “obsessions”) don’t. The loss of individual species isn’t important, except that whole ecosystems are built up of individual species. There’s a tree on Mauritius that can’t germinate because the Dutch ate the dodo. One species.

    This is in part a taxonomic issue (for the crazy birdnerds out there), but it’s an ecological one as well, and that’s what you should be concerned about.

  5. Jesse,
    You’re right that my personal aversion doesn’t have much to do with it. However, a big part of that annoyance does… They often cause real problems with communicating important issues to the general public. A public which doesn’t *get* the near orgasmic reaction some people have to spotting an obscure bird which looks and acts almost identically to a half-dozen common bird species. More importantly, the public doesn’t generally think that saving an individual species is worth significant cost.

    Birders tend to make pretty bad spokespeople for conservation issues.

    PS: I do like most of the birders I know well enough… in small doses. Works well since I tend to grate on folks with long duration exposure.

  6. Birding IS scientifically important, and it is TRUE that we birders are way worse than Trekkies. (Although I should point out that many trekkies are birders.)

    And every species matters but it is true that a “save the species” oriented attitued is almost as annoying at the suburban “I recycle therefore I can drive my three SUV”s” attitude. But most birders are more sophisticated than that.

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