Long-lost long-legged bird rediscovered
Researchers from BirdLife have rediscovered the Long-legged Warbler Trichocichla rufa, a small bird from the Fijian island of Viti Levu, not seen since 1894 and previously feared extinct.
The mysterious bird, found only in the mountains of Fiji, and also known as the Long-legged Thicketbird, was found one year into a survey of rare birds in the Pacific nation and photographed for the first time ever. Fijian researchers found 12 pairs in Wabu, a remote Forest Reserve on Fiji’s largest island.
This small, reddish-brown bird, named after its relatively long legs for a warbler and its preference for dense undergrowth, was only known from four birds collected in 1890-1894, and a handful of reports in the 1980s-1990s, none of which was confirmed as true. Another sub-species on the island of Vanua Levu, Trichocichla rufa clunei, was discovered in 1974 when two birds were seen, but has not been found again.
Vilikesa Masibalavu, BirdLife International coordinator for the Darwin Initiative-funded project, was the first to identify the bird: "I heard a loud song which was different to any other Fijian bird," he said. The team spent the next few days recording the beautiful warbling songs of this bird which was previously undescribed. The song echoing around the mountain valleys is perhaps the reason why the local people called it the Manu Kalou or Spirit Bird in the nineteenth century.
"At first incredulous, I soon realised that this was indeed the bird that we had been searching for all this time. My reactions were a mix of excitement at seeing and hearing the bird for myself, and happiness and respect for my Fijian colleagues who made the discovery." —Guy Dutson, BirdLife Project Manager in Fiji
Altogether nine pairs were found along a two-kilometre stretch of stream with dense thickets of undergrowth, indicating locally high population densities at an altitude between 800-1000m in this unlogged forest. Two of the pairs were seen with recently-fledged juveniles.
"The Long-legged Warbler is a very secretive species but now that we know its song, we can find it and make our first assessment of its conservation needs," says Guy Dutson, BirdLife Project Manager in Fiji. "They appear to need dense vegetation beside mountain streams. We are happy to conclude that they are surviving in some remote mountain forests. Although currently safe at Wabu, they remain at risk from forest clearance elsewhere, and predation by introduced mongooses."
A bird was caught and shown to government and community representatives who have set aside the local area for conservation purposes and pledge to restrict logging in the forest. BirdLife will now work with the community and the Department of Forestry to help ensure the long-term protection of this forest.