New bird discovered after its extinction

March 26, 2009,
New subspecies of Colombian bird, Grallaria milleri gilesi on the left, discovered after 120 years in the Museum's collections and is now extinct. Its close relation, the antpitta Grallaria milleri milleri, is on the right. © Paintings by Norman Arlott/Natural History Museum

After almost 120 years in the Natural History Museum collections, a new Colombian bird has been discovered, and proclaimed extinct.

The bird is a new subspecies of antpitta, a thrush-sized ground-living flightless bird from forests near the Colombian city of Medellin.

It was discovered among the 1 million bird at the Natural History Museum in London, after lying unrecognised in the collection for 120 years.

Bird artist Norman Arlott uncovered the specimen in 2001 and drew it to the attention of Museum's Head of , Dr Robert Prys-Jones, and Museum scientific associate Dr Paul Salaman.

'We immediately recognised the specimen was previously undescribed,' says Dr Salaman, 'yet it seems inconceivable that this distinctive specimen could have had been overlooked for 120 years.'

Collected more than 100 years ago

The bird was originally collected in September 1878 by the British ornithologist Thomas Knight Salmon.

'There were no bird identification guides in the late 19th century,' says Dr Prys-Jones.

'So Thomas Salmon sent the specimens he’d collected to be identified by scientists in Britain, where many were deposited at the world’s largest here at London’s Natural History Museum.'

'While there were many new and exciting discoveries, one unusual specimen of an antpitta was amazingly overlooked.'

Habitat gone

The new bird, called Antioquia brown-banded antpitta (Grallaria milleri gilesi), lived in the at Santa Elena, a neighbouring town to Colombia’s third largest city, Medellin.

Formerly forested, with their cool climate and rich soils, these are prime locations for coffee cultivation, agriculture and cattle grazing. Very little of the original forests remain and the region has very few protected areas.

Bird search

Recent searches by Fundación ProAves, Colombia’s national bird conservation organisation, have failed to locate any living individuals so in the wild the bird is probably extinct.

'Sadly, the new subspecies appears to have been restricted to Andean forests,' says Dr Prys-Jones 'a habitat that has been almost completely destroyed around Medellin and replaced by non-native pine trees and exotic eucalyptus trees.'

'If we had known about this extraordinary specimen decades before, it is possible the bird could have been located and saved. But sadly it lay overlooked for generations and as a bitter consequence we have probably lost it forever,' concluded Dr Salaman.

The description of the new bird is published in the March 2009 issue of Bulletin of the British Ornithologist’s Club.

Research took place as part of Project BioMap, funded by the UK Darwin Initiative and Conservation International to database all Colombian bird specimens held in museums worldwide.

Provided by Natural History Museum

Explore further: New bird found on unexplored mountain

Related Stories

Extinct parrot resurfaces in Aberdeen

January 30, 2007

The University of Aberdeen Zoology Museum (UK) has taken care of a case of mounted Australian birds, one of which is the spectacular but sadly extinct Paradise Parrot Psephotus pulcherrimus.

Continent's oldest bird tracks are found

November 23, 2005

University of Colorado scientists say they have found fossilized bird tracks in the Cedar Mountains near Moab, Utah, that are 125 million years old.

New fossil bird found

May 1, 2008

Details of a fabulous new fossil bird from the world-famous fossil deposits of Liaoning in China, are published this week in the journal Science in China. Details of the bird's bone structure and feathers are exquisitely ...

Lost cuckoo breaks its silence

February 26, 2007

A team of biologists with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have recorded for the first time the call of the extremely rare Sumatran ground cuckoo, found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Recommended for you

Scientists ID another possible threat to orcas: pink salmon

January 19, 2019

Over the years, scientists have identified dams, pollution and vessel noise as causes of the troubling decline of the Pacific Northwest's resident killer whales. Now, they may have found a new and more surprising culprit: ...

Researchers come face to face with huge great white shark

January 18, 2019

Two shark researchers who came face to face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded are using their encounter as an opportunity to push for legislation that would protect sharks in Hawaii.

Why do Hydra end up with just a single head?

January 18, 2019

Often considered immortal, the freshwater Hydra can regenerate any part of its body, a trait discovered by the Geneva naturalist Abraham Trembley nearly 300 years ago. Any fragment of its body containing a few thousands cells ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.