April 27, 2007

Indian warbler

Indian warbler “lost” for 139 years makes spectacular return—in Thailand and the UK


Ornithologists across the world are celebrating with the news that a wetland bird that has eluded scientists ever since its discovery in India in 1867 has been refound. Twice.

The Large-billed Reed-warbler is the world’s least known bird. A single bird was collected in the Sutlej Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India, in 1867, but many had questioned whether it was indeed represented a true species and wasn’t just an aberrant individual of a common species.

But on 27 March 2006, ornithologist Philip Round, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, Mahidol University, was bird ringing (banding) at a wastewater treatment centre (the royally initiated Laem Phak Bia Environmental Research and Development Project) near Bangkok, Thailand.

“Although reed-warblers are generally drab and look very similar, one of the birds I caught that morning struck me as very odd, something about it didn’t quite add up; it had a long beak and short wings,” said Round. “Then, it dawned on me—I was probably holding a Large-billed Reed-warbler. I was dumbstruck, it felt as if I was holding a living dodo.”

“I knew it was essential to get cast-iron proof of its identity. I took many photographs, and carefully collected two feathers for DNA analysis, so as not to harm the bird.”

Round contacted Professor Staffan Bensch, from Lund University, Sweden, who had previously examined the Indian specimen and confirmed it did represent a valid species. He examined photographs and DNA of the Thai bird and confirmed the two were the same species.

Philip Round/The Wetland Trust

Large-billed Reed-warbler: the world's least known bird
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