The black-browed babbler, whose scientific name is Malacocincla perspicillata, is so rare that only one specimen was ever procured and documented, and that was between 1843 and 1848, according to a paper that was published in the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Birding Asia.
There is very little recorded information about the bird, including population size or whether the babbler is endangered or not. Currently, its protection status is assessed as data deficient by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
However, in October 2020, two local men, Muhammad Rizky Fauzan and Muhammad Suranto, chanced upon the bird in South Kalimantan, Indonesia. They photographed the unique bird and reported their discovery to fellow bird watchers in birdwatching groups.
“It feels surreal to know that we have found a species of bird presumed by experts to be extinct,” Fauzan said, according to The Guardian. “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.”
Following the rediscovery, a paper was published with details of the bird. Panji Gusti Akbar, an ornithologist and lead author of the paper, said that the finding confirms the bird’s origins, which have long been in dispute.
After studying and photographing their avian friend during its brief captivity, the researchers determined it was, in fact, a member of the rare species that no one had seen for 170 years.
Now, scientists know that the babbler originates from south-eastern Borneo, not the island of Java, as was once believed.
After making documentation, the team released the bird in the same place where it was caught.
Previously, the only known specimen of the black-browed babbler had bright-yellow glass eyes, and legs that have faded to pale brown, according to The New York Times.
However, photographs from the recent find revealed that the bird actually has variegated coloring, with blue-tinged wings, a black crown of feathers, and crimson eyes.
“We now also know what the black-browed babbler really looks like,” Akbar said, according to The Guardian. “The photographed bird showed several differences from the only known specimen, specifically the color of the iris, bill, and leg. These three parts of a bird’s body are known to lose their tint and are often artificially colored during the taxidermy process.”
This astounding discovery has made it possible for scientists to study the long-lost bird.
“Who knows what other riches lie deep within Borneo’s fabled rainforests, especially in the Indonesian part of the island,” Ding Li Yong, a conservationist with BirdLife International in Singapore and a co-author of the paper, said.