There isn't much to laugh about when we're talking about the blue-crowned laughingthrush. Only about 250 of these rare birds, whose songs sound like human laughter, remain in the wild.

Species name: Blue-crowned laughingthrush (Garrulax courtoisi), also known as the Courtois's laughingbird. The birds have only been recognized as their own species since 2006 (prior to which they were thought to be a subspecies of another, much more populous species). This no doubt delayed conservation efforts that would have been warranted had the birds been seen as a full species.

Where found: Five highly fragmented sites in China's Jiangxi Province.

IUCN Red List status: Critically endangered, although there is hope that additional sub-populations might be discovered, in which case it could possibly be downlisted to Endangered.

Major threat: The pet trade has been linked to the species being wiped out in several locations. Luckily the export of these birds was banned in 1998, but by that time the damage had been done. Since then, however, breeding sites have been destroyed by development of roads and resorts. Few if any of its breeding sites are currently protected.

Notable conservation programs: A few protected areas have been set up for the birds, and researchers have made numerous expeditions trying to locate additional populations (so far none have been fruitful). Meanwhile, about 170 of the birds live in a handful of zoos around the world, which are helping to establish breeding populations. It hasn't been easy: as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust reports, the birds "are very nervous during the breeding season, so breeding progress has been relatively slow."

Multimedia: You can see some amazing footage of blue-crowned laughingthrushes in this video shot in their home province:

Photo: A laughingthrush photographed at Lincoln Park Zoo by Heather Paul, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license

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