Enigmatic tanager rediscovered in Brazil
The March 2006 issue of BirdLifeís World Birdwatch magazine features a small grey and white finch-like bird with a striking pale bill, on its cover.
On 25 August 1938, Dr A Vellard collected a new species of passerine in dry forest habitat at Juruena, Central Brazil. In appearance, the new species was mostly black except for a small concealed white throat patch and white belly. The "stout and conical" bill led to its English name of Cone-billed Tanager, but remarkably it was another 66 years before the species was seen anywhere again.
In October 2004, Brazilian ornithologist Dante Buzzetti was visiting Emas National Park to follow up a possible sighting of the species in 2003 by bird guide BrŠulio A Carlos. Buzzetti heard a call at dawn he did not recognize. Playing back the calls attracted a medium brown bird he was unable to identify. A few days later, he heard a melodious song, and again using playback, brought in a male Cone-billed Tanager Conothraupis mesoleuca.
Later that day, Buzzetti confirmed the brown bird he had earlier seen was a female Cone-billed Tanager; the first ever to be recorded. The following month, Buzzetti and Carlos filmed presumably the same pair of birds. Unlike published illustrations (all based on the single museum specimen), in life the bill of Cone-billed Tanager was strikingly pale, rather than black.
"To get photos of the tanager was fantastic because itís still hard for me to believe that Iíve actually seen this enigmatic species!" —Andre De Luca, SAVE Brasil
Since 2004, Cone-billed Tanagers have been found again at Emas National Park. In late 2005, Andre De Luca, a volunteer ornithologist for SAVE Brasil (BirdLife in Brazil), visited the park and found at least three birds in gallery forest.
Although the rediscovery of the Cone-billed Tanager is great news for Brazilís birds, the publication today of Important Bird Areas in Brazil by SAVE Brasil highlights the problems faced by one of the most bird-rich countries in the world Ė particularly in its threatened Atlantic Forest habitat.
Brazil has more globally threatened birds than any other country on earth. Of the 111 species at risk of extinction, 98 live in Brazilís Atlantic forest, already the countryís most seriously reduced habitat.