A rare bird that hadn’t been seen for 24 years has been confirmed alive after expeditions in Madagascar’s forests found three individuals.
The sightings of the dusky tetraka, a small, ground-dwelling forest bird, may prompt a rewrite of ornithology textbooks, as the birds were seen by the rocky banks of mountain streams – not previously thought to be their favoured habitat.
The dusky tetraka (Xanthomixis tenebrosa), an olive bird with a yellow throat, was included in a top 10 “most wanted” list by the Search for Lost Birds, a conservation collaboration launched in 2021.
Since December, three individuals have been seen by two teams from charity The Peregrine Fund. The expeditions were made to forests on high mountain slopes, as this is where most remaining wooded areas are in Madagascar.
The first team found an individual near a stream in the island’s Masoala peninsula by using a mist net, a fine mesh that is suspended between trees so birds get tangled in it. The net is checked frequently and then birds can be released unharmed.
The second team’s efforts didn’t go smoothly as it was discovered that much of the target region near Andapa had been turned into vanilla farms.
But when the team switched to searching a lower elevation, at about 800 metres above sea level, John Mittermeier at the American Bird Conservancy saw a pair of the birds hopping around in undergrowth by a stream. “It’s a moment that’s tremendously exciting – to be looking for something that long and then there it is,” he says. “Afterwards it felt like a dream.”
The next day, the team caught what was probably one of the same pair in a mist net, and confirmed that it was indeed the right species.
Lily-Arison Rene de Roland at The Peregrine Fund says the confirmed sightings should help efforts to conserve the bird’s habitat.
If its preferred habitat is by streams, this might be why it hasn’t been seen for so long, as the sound of the rushing water may drown out its calls, says Mittermeier.