jerdons-babbler

Credit: The Wildlife Conservation Society

Hey there, pretty bird. Welcome back. We’ve missed your jersey caramel colours and big, brown eyes since pretty much forever.

What’s new with us? Well, we’ve got colour televisions now, but only old people actually watch television on them; there’s the Internet - you’ve probably got about 5 million emails waiting for you in an account you didn’t know you had btw - and books? They still exist! I know, so weird. Vaping happened, Dumblebore died, and nope, still no release date for The Winds of Winter. Oh and our girl Tay Tay is the president and there’s no such thing as countries anymore.

Wait no, I’ve gone too far. Forget I told you that. No one can know. If you tell anyone, I’ll take you out into the woods and strap you to a tree where no one can hear you scream as monsters tear your legs off. Or, you know, you can not tell anyone and I’ll make you so many cookies. Your choice, pretty bird. I know what I’d choose though.

*****

Meet the Myanmar Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre altirostre), an incredibly rare subspecies of the Jerdon’s babbler, not seen for over 70 years. Until recently, the last time it was spotted was back in July 1941, in the dense grasslands nearby Myitkyo, a town in the Bago Region of Myanmar. It was soon after declared extinct and written out of the birding books.

But a team from the US -based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) happened to stumble on not one, but several of these plucky little brown birds early last year while surveying the Myanmar wilderness for native species. They were wandering around a site near an abandoned agricultural station, where some of the birds' original grassland habitat remains, when they heard an unfamiliar call. They recorded it, played it back, and and simple as that, out popped a very hopeful Jerdon’s babbler.

The team reports finding several adult babblers in the area over the next 48 hours, which suggests that there’s a least one population doing alright for itself out there. They managed to capture a few for blood sampling and confirmed the identity of the subspecies through genetic analysis.

Discovered in 1862 by British naturalist T. C. Jerdon, this little sparrow-sized species went from common to practically invisible over less than a century in Myanmar thanks to development and agriculture wiping clear their grassland habitat. It seems that despite losing most of their home, they’re still surviving in the little pockets that remain, and now scientists will be working with the locals to ensure the safety of what’s left of them.

"This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar, but that the habitat can still be found as well,” Director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore, Colin Poole, said in a press release. "Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them.”

The Myanmar Jerdon's babbler is one of three subspecies of the Jordan’s babbler. There’s also the Terai Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre griseigularis), a darker, more ruddy coloured variant found in western Nepal and possibly ranging from Bhutan to the Dooars and Brahmaputra floodplain of India, Cachar and the Naga Hills. And then there’s the Sind Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre scindicum), found in scattered populations around the IIndus basin of Pakistan.

Altogether, the species is estimated to hold around 10,000 adult individuals across the three subspecies, and researchers are doing their best to keep the population counts updated. Hopefully these little birds will let us see them a little more often now, so we can at least keep that many of them around.

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