The black-browed babbler had been missing for 172 years before its unexpected rediscovery last year – now we have our first footage of the bird in the wild
6 November 2021
The enigmatic black-browed babbler has been studied in the wild for the first time following its reappearance after a 172-year absence.
No Asian bird has been missing for as long as the black-browed babbler (Malacocincla perspicillata) was before its rediscovery in 2020. Following the unexpected first sighting, Panji Gusti Akbar from Birdpacker, a birdwatching group in Indonesia, and his colleagues set out in September 2021 to explore the enigmatic bird’s habitat in the limestone hills of Kotabaru Regency, in Indonesian Borneo.
The team spotted a pair of babblers in dense shrubbery near the side of the cliffs. Akbar noted that the birds moved very quietly and discreetly, which may be the reason they were hidden from us for so long. Once the birds were close enough, the team captured the first images and videos of the birds in their natural habitat.
The babbler can be identified by a prominent bill, grey and brown feathers, and a distinctive black eyestripe. Before its rediscovery, our only evidence of the bird’s existence came in the form of a single stuffed specimen and a number of natural history accounts dating back to the mid-19th century.
Akbar said in a statement: “It was a breathtaking moment to finally see this species in the wild, as most of its natural history is entirely unknown, so that every single behaviour we observed can be new to science.”
Paul Insua Cao, chair of the Oriental Bird Club’s conservation committee, said in a statement that the rediscovery spotlights the biodiversity crisis happening around the world. The black-browed babbler would probably have become extinct had it not been for its rediscovery, as we can now start looking to protect its habitat, said Cao.
While these sightings are exciting, little is known about the bird’s ecology, its population size or geographical distribution. Akbar and his team are currently searching for more black-browed babbler sightings to determine this information. They hope this will help determine the bird’s conservation status, enabling relevant authorities to protect the species.
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