In the 1840s, a mystery bird was caught on an expedition to the East Indies. Charles Lucien Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon, described it to science and named it the black-browed babbler (Malacocincla perspicillata).
The species was never seen in the wild again and presumed to be extinct - a stuffed specimen from the expedition was the only proof of its existence. But now the black-browed babbler has been rediscovered in the rainforests of Borneo by two local men who chanced upon a bird they did not recognise in Indonesia’s South Kalimantan province in October last year and managed to catch it. They photographed the bird, released it, and reported their find to birdwatching groups.
Experts from the region confirmed the bird’s identity, noting its strong bill, chocolate colouring and distinctive black eye-stripe.
“It feels surreal to know that we have found a species of bird presumed by experts to be extinct,” said Rizky Fauzan. “We didn’t expect it to be that special at all - we thought it was just another bird that we simply have never seen before.”
Ding Li Yong, of BirdLife International, a co-author of the paper published in the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Birding Asia, said: “It’s sobering to think that when the black-browed babbler was last seen, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species hadn’t even been published and the now extinct passenger pigeon was still among the world’s commonest birds. Who knows what other riches lie deep within Borneo’s fabled rainforests, especially in the Indonesian part of the island?”
More than 1,700 bird species live across the archipelago of Indonesia, with many remote islands not well surveyed by scientists.