Hallelujah! A small Asian bird believed to have died out more than 60 years ago has recently been rediscovered.
Jerdon’s Babbler (Chrysomma altirostre altirostre) is an LBJ ("little brown job") about the size of a House Sparrow. It was initially described in the 19th century by a British naturalist, Thomas C. Jerdon.
Although his main interest was the birds of India, Jerdon discovered his eponymous babbler in 1862 in Burma (or Myanmar, if you must). At the time the bird was common in the grasslands of the country's flood plains. However, this natural habitat was doomed to gradual destruction by rice cultivation and the expansion of Burma's urban population.
Until its recent rediscovery, the last recorded sighting of a Jerdon’s Babbler was a single bird that was “collected”— does that mean shot or just trapped? — on 9 July 1941. This date, of course, was at the height of the Second World War. Soon afterwards the area was occupied by Japanese troops, rendering further scientific investigation impossible.
Since the 1939–45 war, Jerdon’s drab little Burmese bird has been assumed to be extinct, although related subspecies — which may well be in line for reclassification as distinct species — have lingered elsewhere in Asia.
But the good news is that Jerdon’s Babbler has now been rediscovered. The expansion of rice paddies and a growing human population mean that Burma’s floodplains now bear little resemblance to the landscape that Jerdon studied. However, some tiny remnants of habitat suited to the babbler have managed to survive.
In 2014, a research team surveying the remaining grasslands recorded a distinctive bird-call. When they played back their recording in the field they were rewarded with the sight of an adult Jerdon’s Babbler. Over the following days they also found more birds at other nearby locations. Using mist nets, they trapped several more babblers and obtained blood samples and photographs to confirm their identification.
It is always heartening to learn about the re-emergence of a creature assumed to be extinct. The rediscovery of Jerdon’s Babbler gives us us hope for the recovery of other Asian species that may have pessimistically been consigned to extinction.