20 Jan 2011

Search Continues for Pohnpei’s Rarest Bird

By BirdLife Pacific
Conservation Society of Pohnpei (CSP) Terrestrial Programme staff, in collaboration with BirdLife International staff Dr Mark O’Brien, recently returned from a seven-day expedition to the high ridges of the island surveying Nahnalaud, Nihpit, and Kupwuriso forest in search of the Critically Endangered Pohnpei Starling Aplonis pelzelni. Pohnpei is the largest island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Pohnpei Starling, or Sie, is smaller than the common Micronesian Starling, is dark grey or black without the shiny feathers of the latter and has a dark brown eye, unlike the bright yellow eye of Micronesian Starling and has a thinner and less robust bill. The last confirmed report of the bird was in 1995 when a specimen was collected on the ridge of Nahnalaud. There have been occasional, unconfirmed, sightings since indeed CSP staff reported seeing the bird on a previous visit to the Nahnalaud cloud forest in 2008. The current expedition, funded through the 2009 British Bird Fair's Lost and Found Initiative and the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, revisited the areas where the bird has most recently been recorded. It was unsuccessful in its primary aim of locating the starling, but did provide all parties with the opportunity to assess how they might best confirm the continued existence of the starling. Most previous confirmed reports have been based on shot birds. As there appear to be so few present at the current time the group are now particularly keen to use alternative means of confirming the continued presence of the bird, such as through photographs or recordings of the distinctive bird song. Accordingly a further visit is being planned in for early 2011. This, should, according to local folklore, coincide with the time when the bird is most likely to be calling. Pohnpei folklore suggests that the calling of the starling is associated with the onset of the breadfruit season. “It was a privilege to spend some time in such a pristine cloud forest environment, with the committed conservationists from CSP”, said BirdLife’s Dr Mark O’Brien. “Our search for the bird was somewhat hampered by 48 hours of continual rainfall, ensuring that Pohnpei lived up to its reputation as one of the wettest places on the planet. Accordingly there is still some work to do to cover the remaining areas of high altitude forest on the island. However, it’s also clear that Sie are, if present at all, at very low densities and/or very difficult to detect.” Pohnpei Starling is one of the species benefitting from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world’s most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered. Find out more here. This news is brought to you by the BirdLife Species Champions and the British Birdwatching Fair - official sponsor of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme