After 130 years of evading scientists and photographers, the minuscule and ultra-rare South Philippine dwarf kingfisher has finally been photographed.
Covered in gorgeous plumage made up of metallic orange, blue, and magenta-colored spots, the bird is the tiniest of all the forest kingfisher birds known to man. It was first observed and described during the Steere Expedition exactly 130 years ago, at the time of writing, but its sneaky nature and diminutive size have made it all but impossible for scientists and explorers to snag photos during all that time.
Filipino field biologist Miguel David De Leon finally managed to do what no one else could, though, and captured the tiny and beautiful bird—which has been threatened with extinction due to the destruction of its habitat—in a series of photographs during a recent expedition on the islands of Mindanao and Basilan.
“The Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy is a group of eight field workers and bird photographers that documents birds and habitats, contributing data previously unknown to science, with the ultimate goal of conserving species and ecosystems,” says De Leon in an interview with Esquire Philippines.
The bird has proven elusive for so long because it moves with incredible stealth. It tends to perch quietly in among the foliage in its natural habitat then moves quickly from perch to perch in a way that makes it very tough to spot.
The conservancy works to specifically document birds that aren’t very well known around the world, providing glimpses at how the birds interact with their environment. Finding a way to document the dwarf kingfisher, though, certainly wasn’t easy—it took De Leon and his team 10 years to track down the bird and finally capture the photos.
From 2007 to 2017, De Leon and his crew laboriously researched the kingfisher and scouted out nests near the city of Cagayan de Oro. They found a pair of nesting sites before they ultimately managed to photograph the rare bird. The first nest was destroyed by trespassers at Mapawa Nature Park before the scientists were ever able to document their discoveries via photograph. Luckily, the second was untouched, and it helped provide tremendous amounts of information about the nesting and feeding habits of the miniature avian creatures.
Unfortunately, the dwarf kingfisher is suffering from the risks that many animals face due to deforestation. In the Philippines, the natural habitat of the kingfisher is being destroyed, which could send the ultra-rare species into extinction.
De Leon’s work is something that he hopes will help raise awareness to the kinds of creatures that are at risk from deforestation. He believes that it’s about more than just the trees that get wiped out when talking about the harmful effects of habitat destruction.
“There’s more to bird conservation than just birds. By protecting and preserving habitats, we keep the circles of life within an ecosystem intact. The innumerable variety of insects that birds feed on, the unattractive shrubs that insects feed on, the fungi and bacteria that render the soil suitable for plant growth, and so on, they’re all indivisibly linked together,” he said to Esquire.
“The biggest threat to the decline or loss of our endemic and indigenous species is habitat loss,” he adds. “Hunting and trapping for food or the illegal pet trade are contributory factors as well. Culturally, recreational shooting of birds using airguns or slingshots puts further pressure on bird populations.”