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Bird Feared Extinct Rediscovered

The Bahama Nuthatch is extant!

Bird Feared Extinct Rediscovered in the Bahamas

Bahaman Nuthatch
Evidence of survival: Bahama Nuthatch photographed within the Lucaya Estates on Grand Bahama Island on July 4, 2018 ©Erika Gates Website

One of the rarest birds in the Western Hemisphere, the Bahama Nuthatch, has been rediscovered by research teams searching the island of Grand Bahama.

The finding is particularly significant because the species had been feared extinct following the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and had not been found in subsequent searches.

It is unclear how many nuthatches may be left. Observations of two birds together and other single birds (including a juvenile) scattered across miles of forest indicate that five or more birds could survive.

The Bahama Nuthatch is an Endangered species, only known from native pine forest on Grand Bahama Island, which lies approximately 100 miles off Palm Beach, Florida.

Two search teams worked in coordination with Bahamas National Trust (BNT) to rediscover the bird during the breeding season, starting in April of this year. One team was led by Zeko McKenzie and his students at the University of The Bahamas-North, supported by American Bird Conservancy, and another by University of East Anglia (UEA) masters students Matthew Gardner and David Pereira, in conjunction with BirdLife International.

Both teams first observed nuthatches in May 2018, documenting their observations with photographs. McKenzie's team observed five birds in all, starting with a sighting of two individual Bahama Nuthatches together on May 1. The next sighting was on May 23, over a mile from the first observation, and included a juvenile bird accompanying a Bahama Warbler. The juvenile was distinguished from adults by the lack of distinctive brown plumage on the crown of the bird’s head. A video recording of this juvenile Bahama Nuthatch by McKenzie was the earliest documentation of the species’ continued survival in 2018, and was followed by additional photographs of adult birds by both research teams later in May and in subsequent months.

Dr. Diana Bell, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said, “The Bahama Nuthatch is a critically endangered species, threatened by habitat destruction and degradation, invasive species, tourist developments, fires and hurricane damage.

Regarding the moment when he saw the Bahama Nuthatch, Matthew Gardner recalled, “We had been scouring the forest for about six weeks, and had almost lost hope. At that point we’d walked about 400km (250 miles). Then, I suddenly heard its distinctive call and saw the unmistakable shape of a nuthatch descending towards me. I shouted with joy, I was ecstatic!

The photographs clearly show this distinctive species and cannot be anything else,” said Michael Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy. “Fortunately this is not a hard bird to identify, but it was certainly a hard bird to find.

Parr continued, “Despite the critical situation for this species, other birds—such as the New Zealand Black Robin—have recovered from tiny populations. We are optimistic that conservation can also save the Bahama Nuthatch.

The Bahama Nuthatch was observed within the Lucaya Estates, an area previously logged during the mid-1900s and since developed with many miles of roads for residential development.

Researcher Zeko McKenzie said, “Although the Bahama Nuthatch has declined precipitously, we are encouraged by the engagement of conservation scientists who are now looking for ways to save the species.

The Bahamas National Trust feels that research on endangered species, such as the Bahama Nuthatch, is really important,” said Shelley Cant-Woodside, Director of Science and Policy of the Bahamas National Trust, “especially in the face of a changing climate.

The search effort by UEA graduate students benefited from coordination with Nigel Collar and David Wege of BirdLife International and was funded by the Thrigby Conservation Fund, UEA, and the students themselves.

The search effort by Zeko McKenzie’s team involved many collaborators, including Meghan Dareus, Micquria Gibson, Kiera Smith, Destiny Martin, Erika Gates, and Martha Cartwright in the field, and Bert Harris and William Hayes in prior planning. These searches also built upon prior unsuccessful searches conducted by David Wilcove, Kelly Farrell, Leighton Reed, Bert Harris, Stephen Eccles, and George Ledec that occurred outside the breeding season earlier in 2018. American Bird Conservancy is grateful for funding from the Coypu Foundation, Bert Harris, John Harris, and Stephen Eccles in support of this search effort. Re-finding the Bahama Nuthatch is the most recent successful search for a lost bird species supported by ABC, following the rediscovery of the Táchira Antpitta in Venezuela in 2016. Learn more at ABC’s Search for Lost Birds.

Daniel Lebbin - Vice President of Threatened Species, American Bird Conservancy

23rd August 2018