Bird missing for 170 years rediscovered in Indonesian rainforest

More than 170 years after it was first reported around 1850, one of Indonesia’s most elusive birds has recently been rediscovered on the island of Borneo, to the excitement of conservationists and ornithologists.

The black-browed babbler, featuring deep scarlet eyes, gray legs, and black, gray, and chestnut-brown plumage, was discovered last week by two local bird enthusiasts, solving what one birding guide describes as “one of the great enigmas of Indonesian ornithology.”

“When we actually got confirmation of the identification, I did a little prayer and bowed down to celebrate,” Panji Gusti Akbar, lead author of the paper describing the new species told NYT. “I felt excitement, disbelief, and a lot of happiness.”

The great excitement exhibited by Mr. Akbar should come as no surprise — the bird was first recorded around 1850 when ornithologists collected the one and only known specimen of the species. That bird was also first mislabeled as having come from the island of Java rather than Borneo, slowing down subsequent attempts to find additional black-browed babblers.

It was only in October last year that two local men, Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan, chanced upon a bird they couldn’t identify in South Kalimantan, one of Indonesia’s provinces on Borneo. Once they had managed to catch the bird, the men sent photos to BW Galeatus, a local birdwatching group.

“I was confused when we got the pictures because it looked a bit like the Horsfield’s babbler, but it didn’t really fit,” Joko Said Trisiyanto, a member of BW Galeatus told NYT. The photos more closely matched an illustration of a black-browed babbler — a bird listed in Mr. Trisiyanto’s guidebook as possibly extinct.

Bewildered, Mr. Trisiyanto then sent the images to Mr. Akbar, who couldn’t believe it either. “I started pacing around my house, just trying to contain my excitement,” he said.

After the bird’s identity was eventually confirmed Mr. Trisiyanto persuaded Mr. Suranto and Mr. Fauzan to release the captured bird back into the rainforest. The plan is now to use the black-browed babbler’s discovery to build greater local interest in nature.

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