While conservation news does tend to be a bit gloomy on account of the troubling general decline of bird populations around the world, it is always nice to have the opportunity to report on some good news. Fortunately, amidst dire warnings and frightening trends, the year of 2022 has offered some great feel-good material in the area of avian conservation. From the reintroduction of Northern Bobwhites in West Virginia, to the return of the Spix Macaw, to the possible instatement of protections for the declining Lesser Prairie Chicken, in the world of bird conservation, 2022 has been the year of the comeback kid.
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What nobody was expecting, or at least yours truly was not expecting, was the comeback of a bird which has been absent from human knowledge for 140 years. The Black-Naped Pheasant-Pigeon’s incredible reemergence should come as a surprise to, well, everyone. This bird was, in fact, only ever spotted one time before disappearing into the ether of ecological history.
For local hunters in the region of Papua New Guinea where this secretive bird apparently dwells, the “Auwo” as they call it, is as real as any of the animals that dwell in the jungle. For researchers, though, the discovery of this incredibly rare bird was like “finding a unicorn.”
The discovery of this once-lost bird in the remote New Guinean jungles of Fergusson Island was a combined effort from the Papua New Guinea National Museum, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and American Bird Conservancy. These groups spent months surveying the land using hidden cameras to spy into the undergrowth. Within one month, an image of the elusive bird was captured, cementing, perhaps for the first time, its existence within the records of human knowledge.
The Black-Naped Pheasant-Pigeon is a ground-dwelling species of pigeon with a tail that is long and broad. Currently, populations of this unique bird are estimated to number somewhere between fifty and two hundred and fifty individual birds.
The exact ecological footprint of this long lost bird is, understandably, difficult to estimate at this time. Researchers believe, however, that the protection of this rare animal is a matter of grave importance with regards to both the biodiversity of life on earth and the cultural history of Papua New Guinea.
It is hoped that, with time and effort, more individual Black-Naped Pheasant-Pigeons can be observed, recorded, and monitored. As time goes on, hopefully this population can increase enough to prevent this unusual species from disappearing from human knowledge once again.
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