An elusive bird has been photographed on an island in Papua New Guinea, the first documentation of the animal since 1882. The black-naped pheasant pigeon has been photographed for the first time in 140 years using a remote-controlled camera trap set by a research team searching for lost birds.
The expedition team, working as part of the search for lost birds, had spent a month searching for the bird on Fergusson Island, according to a press release.
The Search for Lost Birds is a collaboration of three conservation and bird groups: Re:wild, founded by Leonardo DiCaprio and a group of conservation scientists, American Bird Conservancy, and BirdLife International, a group of 115 national NGOs.
The group set up 12 cameras on Mt Kilkerran, Fergusson’s highest mountain. It was the first camera trap study conducted on the island and was complicated by the mountainous terrain. They also set up eight other cameras where hunters had reported seeing the bird in the past.
“It wasn’t until we reached villages on the western slope of Mt Kilkerran that we began to meet hunters who had seen and heard of the pheasant dove,” Jason Gregg, conservation biologist and co-lead of the expedition team, said in a statement. “We became more confident about the bird’s local name, which is ‘Auwo,’ and felt that we were approaching the core habitat where the black-naped pheasant dove lives.”
After a hunter in a nearby village provided a clue as to where the bird can be seen — in an area of steep ridges and valleys — the team set up cameras on a ridge at 3,200 feet. That’s where the pictures of the black-naped pheasant pigeon were taken.
They spotted the bird on the forest floor just two days before the team was scheduled to leave.
“When we finally found the black-necked pheasant pigeon, it was in the final hours of the expedition,” said Doka Nason, who set the camera trap that ended up photographing the lost bird. “When I saw the photos, I was incredibly excited.”
Very little is known about the species, but its population at Fergusson is believed to be small and declining. The bird has a “broad and laterally compressed tail which, combined with its size, makes it very similar to a pheasant,” the press release said.
There have been several previous attempts to find the bird, including a two-week survey in 2019 that helped inform this search.
The team say the bird is likely extremely rare and the harsh and inaccessible forest where they found it “could be the last stronghold for the black-necked pheasant pigeon on Fergusson.”
The black-naped pheasant pigeon is considered critically endangered, according to BirdLife International. It is considered native only to Fergusson Island, which is part of the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago off East Papua New Guinea. Only two specimens have been studied before – in 1882.