It is very elusive. Perhaps that is why it could not be documented for more than a century. The bird lost for 140 years is a black-naped pheasant pigeon. It lives only on Fergusson Island, east of Papua New Guinea.
It looks very much like a pheasant. Local hunters saw it many times, but it only appears in photographs in 1882. Ornithologists know very little about the species. The research team photographed the pheasant-pigeon with a remote camera trap. It was at the end of a month-long search in Fergusson.
“There was less than a 1% chance,” Jordan Boersma said in a statement. He is a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University. “I was surprised when I saw the photo. It was like finding a unicorn. It’s the kind of moment you dream about your whole life as a conservationist and birder.”
Local Papua New Guineans supported the search. They interviewed local communities to identify sites for camera traps. The steep terrain was extremely challenging.
The expedition was the first camera trap survey conducted on Fergusson Island. The team placed 12 camera traps on the slopes of Mount Kilkerran. There were eight additional cameras at locations where local hunters suggested.
“We found it during the last few hours of the expedition,” said team member Doka Nason. He set up the camera trap that eventually photographed the missing bird. “When I saw the photos, I was incredibly excited.”
A local hunter provided an important clue as to where to find the bird. He described hearing the bird’s distinctive songs. On his advice, the team set up cameras in an area of dense forest. A camera placed on a ridge at 1,000 meters near the Kwama River above Duda Ununa finally captured the black-naped pheasant-pigeon. The bird has been missing for 140 years.
Several team members have tried to find the black-naped pheasant-pigeon before. A two-week survey in 2019 by Boermsa, Gregg, and Nason found no trace of the bird. They only gathered reports from local hunters of a bird that might have been the pheasant-dove. This helped determine locations for the team to search in 2022.