What is the rarest bird you’ve seen? We here at Nemesis Bird would like to know.
But first, what do we mean by “rare”?
If you pay attention to the news, you probably heard that the global human population recently surpassed seven billion. NPR followed up with a story about how many other species are in the “club”, with populations at 7 billion or greater. That story is here.
But it got me thinking about numbers. Most of the time we “bird people” think of rareness in terms of a species’ risk of extinction. This is obviously a crucial step in the conservation process, because it gets at the heart of where our priorities should be. The worldwide body charged with determining risks of extinction is the IUCN, who publishes the Red List. For more about the IUCN Red List, go here.
Think of some species that you know are at significant risk of extinction. For good reason, the ones with the most hype are the ones who’s population is trending downward most steeply. But there are a LOT of species in the world who have very small populations that are relatively stable. Obviously, having a small population increases the risk of extinction, but the big thing that makes conservationists’ sweat is any change to the environment in areas with these vulnerable populations. This gets back to the burgeoning human population issue. Development activities to support our ever-growing population are threatening many other species on the planet. We can go ad nauseum about species at risk of extinction, but the point of this post is to talk about those species that are simply small in number. Most species that are small in number are concentrated in a small area, and if they occur nowhere else, we say that they are “endemic” to that geographic area. Something that these species typically have in common is geographic isolation. It’s more unusual for species to be small in number and spread out across a vast area.
Globalization is a force that works against isolation and regionalism. This is as true ecologically as it is culturally. Think about how every interstate interchange looks the same. It’s so much harder to find an independent mom-and-pop restaurant these days!
I think the best way to combat the homogenization of our planet is by appreciating and celebrating the “gems” that are endemic to specific regions. (Whether they are businesses or species!) So in this spirit, please share with us the species you have seen that are small in number, both in the U.S. and abroad!
I’ll take the lead. Please use the Comment section below, and take a minute to educate all of us about the truly rare birds that are special to you.
The leading organization for compiling information and keeping track of global bird populations is BirdLife International. The links below connect to their accounts for the following species.
I was lucky enough to see Sumichrasts’s Wren (Hylorchilus sumichrasti) in October of 2006 in the piedmont of the state of Veracruz, Mexico, after the North American Ornithological Conference that year! It somewhat resembles an overgrown Canyon Wren. BirdLife International says-
Distribution and population- Hylorchilus sumichrasti is restricted to c.12 sites in west-central Veracruz, north Oaxaca and extreme east Puebla, south Mexico, where it is fairly common but local. It occupies a limited area of suitable habitat within an extent of occurrence c.6,000 km
Within the U.S., I think Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is the rarest species I have ever seen. However, despite their small population, they are still easy to find if you look in the right spot. I visited the epicenter of research on the Florida Scrub-Jay, Archbold Biological Station, which every birder should add to their Florida trip itinerary, especially to drop off a donation! Again, BirdLife International says-
The breeding population was 4,000 pairs in 1993. As the average group size is three, total numbers were probably c.10,000, a c.25% decline since 1983. Declines are believed to have continued and the current best estimate places the global population at c.6,500 individuals.
Of the two species, Florida Scrub-Jay is more at risk of extinction, possibly within my lifetime.