Friday, March 6, 2015

A not so extinct bird

Credit: Robert Tizard/WCS
Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) had not been seen in Myanmar since July 1941, where it was last found in grasslands near the Sittaung River. The small brown bird, about the size of a house sparrow, was initially described by British naturalist T. C. Jerdon in 1862, who found it in grassy plains in central Myanmar.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains. Since then, agriculture and communities have gradually replaced most of these grasslands as the area has developed. The degradation of habitat had many consider the Jerdon's babbler extinct.

A team from Myanmar's Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division and the National University of Singapore found the bird in May 2014 while surveying a site around an abandoned agricultural station that still contained some grassland habitat. The survey was carried out as part of a larger study to understand the genetics of Myanmar bird species and determine the true level of bird diversity found in the country. 

After hearing the bird's distinct call, the researchers played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon's babbler. Over the next 48 hours, the team repeatedly found Jerdon's babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and managed to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs. Especially the blood samples can help to solve another mystery. The Jerdon's Babbler in Myanmar is currently considered as one of three subspecies found in the Indus, Bhramaputra, and Ayeyarwady River basins in South Asia. All show subtle differences in their calls and may yet prove to be distinctive species. DNA analysis will be done at the National University of Singapore to determine if Jerdon's babbler in Myanmar should be considered a true species.

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