Saving the rarest of the uncommon


By their nature, Critically Endangered birds are virtually at all times uncommon. However which species are the world’s very rarest – and the way is BirdLife serving to save them?

In 1873, a neighborhood hunter working for German naturalist A B Meyer on the island of Sangihe, Indonesia, collected an unfamiliar blue songbird that proved to be new to science. Regardless of additional explorations, Cerulean Flycatcher was not undoubtedly seen once more till 1998, following which its inhabitants was regarded as simply 19-135 birds. Virtually 25 years later, surveys – together with by Burung Indonesia (BirdLife Accomplice) – have revealed new places however not elevated that preliminary estimate. Unequivocally one of many rarest of the world’s uncommon birds, Cerulean Flycatcher is a BirdLife precedence.

In 2007, BirdLife launched the Stopping Extinctions Programme (PEP), searching for to know the standing of all chicken species and forestall, halt or reverse the slide to extinction. Underpinned by BirdLife science, usually supported by funding from Species Champions (devoted benefactors) and dealing by means of native Species Guardians (BirdLife Companions and different frontline conservation organisations), evaluation of efforts since 2013 means that PEP has helped at the very least 726 globally threatened species. For Roger Safford, PEP’s Senior Programme Supervisor, this sends a transparent assertion that extinctions ensuing from human exercise “merely aren’t acceptable”.

The ‘rarest of the uncommon’ comprise extant, Critically Endangered species presently thought of to have the tiniest world populations, usually only a few dozen people. They matter to BirdLife, Safford explains, “as a result of there aren’t any misplaced causes”. Such species are “sometimes attribute of extraordinary locations with excessive ranges of endemism and clusters of uncommon species. Working to avoid wasting the very rarest birds can convey wider advantages to threatened biodiversity”. So that are the very rarest birds which are benefiting from BirdLife’s assist – and the way?

Cerulean Paradise Flycatcher, copyright Mark Sutton, from the surfbirds galleries


Endemic to a single 15-km-long island in French Polynesia, Fatu Hiva Monarch as soon as abounded in a predator-free atmosphere. However this shiny black flycatcher’s inhabitants nose-dived throughout the Nineties after Black Rats scurried ashore from ships and began raiding nests.

Regardless of defending nests in opposition to rats, the state of affairs deteriorated when it grew to become obvious that feral cats have been killing as much as half of all fledglings. In 2021, simply 4 breeding pairs remained amongst a paltry 18 people. Grimmer nonetheless, the spectre of illness emerged, with Tom Ghestemme from native BirdLife Accomplice, SOP Manu, confirming that avian malaria was found in a lifeless monarch.

That is really parlous, however issues might have been even worse. Had SOP Manu not began implementing an emergency plan of motion in 2016 – searching for to lure rats, neuter cats and safeguard each single nest – Fatu Hiva Monarch would have already got joined 4 of its Polynesian congeners among the many ranks of the disappeared. “With out SOP Manu,” Roger states starkly, “this species would virtually actually have gone extinct.”

A fairly totally different denizen of the Pacific area that includes on the ‘very rarest’ record is Chinese language Crested Tern. As the brand new Millennium dawned, some feared this chunky-billed seabird had turn out to be extinct. That 12 months, breeding birds have been found within the Matsu Archipelago off the east coast of mainland China, and BirdLife has since performed a key position within the species’ bettering fortunes.

Since 2015, BirdLife has helped terns set up a brand new breeding colony in China and supported the Republic of Korea’s authorities to safeguard a beforehand unknown nest website. Burung Indonesia has additionally confirmed a novel wintering location in Indonesia. Most not too long ago, no fewer than 72 have been reported with video proof in Shandong, China. None of that is adequate to ‘downlist’ the tern to a decrease menace class on the IUCN Pink Checklist, however it’s undeniably promising.

Of Africa’s rarest birds, Madagascar Pochard was rediscovered in 2006, having been suspected of being extinct. Sadly, numbers have been eye-wateringly low: simply 21 have been counted in 2012.

Six years later, after a captive-breeding programme run by a conservation consortium together with Asity Madagascar (BirdLife Accomplice), the Wildfowl and Wetlands Belief, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Belief and the federal government of Madagascar, geese have been launched at a unique wetland.

Inside a 12 months, two pairs had bred and, bolstered by additional releases, the free-flying inhabitants has risen quickly. “It’s a tremendous success story,” Safford observes. “The mission has a strong observe report, a sturdy captive inhabitants and launch website. Except there’s a ‘excellent storm’ of disasters, there’s now no cause for Madagascar Pochard to go extinct.”

One other continent, one other vanishingly uncommon species. Endemic to Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, Cherry-throated Tanager sits amongst South America’s 50 Critically Endangered birds.

An enigma for 120 years till rediscovery in 1998, “it happens in simply two frustratingly small forest fragments virtually 100 km aside in a sea of eucalyptus and low plantations,” explains Daniel Department, an ornithologist who helped website wardens in 2021. Though extra tanagers could but be discovered, “below 20 people are presently recognized”.

Even so, BirdLife is hopeful. In 2017, SAVE Brasil (BirdLife Accomplice) helped Grupo Águia Branca (a significant Brazilian firm) create a 1,688-hectare non-public reserve defending one key website in Espírito Santo state. Time will inform if the protected forest is massive sufficient and the components that make this chicken so uncommon even in its habitat will be managed, in order that this beautiful species survives.


Producing an incontrovertible record of the world’s rarest birds isn’t simple. For one, there’s a sizeable assemblage of ‘misplaced’ species – birds unrecorded for many years, even centuries – of unknown standing. “None could be left – so the species is extinct – or there could also be hidden populations massive sufficient that the species wouldn’t make this explicit record,” Safford explains.

Missing a solution to this elementary binary query (extant or extinct?) inhibits conservation. Accordingly, final 12 months, BirdLife, American Bird Conservancy (ABC, a BirdLife Accomplice within the USA) and Re:wild launched ‘The Seek for Misplaced Birds’. This seeks to trace down uncommon species which have eluded detection for between 10 and 156 years.

The idea of maximum rarity is muddled additional by 5 species categorised as Extinct within the Wild. Hawaiian Crow, Alagoas Curassow, Spix’s Macaw, Guam Kingfisher and Socorro Dove have vanished from forests but persist in captivity. Though free-living populations are presently zero, their caged cohort supplies the potential for reintroductions. Such a path has been blazed by California Condor and Guam Rail, each extinct within the wild by 1987 however subsequently reintroduced and now Critically Endangered. Though reintroductions are complicated and expensive, there are hopes that the quintet may comply with go well with.

As, maybe, may Javan Pied Starling. With data since 2000 more likely to contain escaped cagebirds, this Critically Endangered Indonesian endemic could already be extinct within the wild. Impressed partly by BirdLife, nevertheless, conservationists are capitalising on a bonanza of 1,000,000 captive starlings by assembling a inhabitants for conservation breeding and eventual reintroduction. Ought to this come good, this placing chicken will hopefully by no means sit on a future record of the world’s rarest.

For a number of different species, tiny wild populations are outnumbered by captive shares, offering additional conservation choices, though the significance of these few wild birds and their habitat can’t be overstated.

Such positivity is justified by previous expertise. Latest many years present a panoply of circumstances the place the work of chicken conservationists, usually BirdLife, has averted extinction. This was made strikingly clear by means of a 2020 examine co-led by BirdLife, which demonstrated that 21-32 avian extinctions have been prevented since 1993. With out conservation interventions, extinction charges would have been three or 4 occasions larger.


When the Stopping Extinctions Programme recognized the planet’s 15 rarest birds in 2013, it included at the very least three species which are extant right this moment however at the moment are faring higher, because of conservation motion growing their numbers. One is Polynesian Floor-dove.

As not too long ago as 2015, the once-widespread species was diminished to a single practical inhabitants on the one remaining rat-free island within the Acteon Group (a part of the Tuamotu Archipelago). For the ground-dove, “nothing,” Safford says, “was going to enhance with out eradicating rats”.

Amazingly, nevertheless, BirdLife, SOP Manu and Island Conservation succeeded in eliminating launched predators and restoring 1,000 hectares throughout 5 islands. 5 years on, Polynesian Floor-dove populations flourish on two new atolls. Though nonetheless Critically Endangered, the ground-dove’s future presents hope.

Even longer in the past, the record would have seemed very totally different. In 1980, Black Robin was the world’s rarest chicken: simply 5 remained. Following intensive administration, round 250 exist right this moment; it’s now ‘merely’ Endangered. Much more impressively, Nature Seychelles and the Mauritian Wildlife Basis (BirdLife Companions) have saved units of endemic birds dealing with extinction. The populations of a number of – together with Seychelles Magpie Robin (now Endangered), Mauritius Kestrel (Endangered) and Rodrigues Fody (Close to Threatened) – had stooped under (some far under) 30 birds. All at the moment are out of vital hazard.

There’s a distinct echo of Eighties Mauritius and Seychelles on present-day Sangihe. Along with Cerulean Flycatcher, the island harbours 4 Critically Endangered endemics, together with at the very least one even rarer than that attractive, mysterious blue creature: Sangihe White-eye. Eyes are on the forest-conservation work that Burung Indonesia is doing with native villagers.

Such dedicated endeavours engender optimism in Roger Safford. “Nothing is past saving,” he concludes. “Conservationists together with BirdLife have a observe report of creating a distinction to the world’s rarest birds. With additional assist, we are going to proceed doing so.”


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