By John R. Platt
When a rare species is seen and photographed for the first time in a decade, it tends to be cause for celebration. When that sighting is of a juvenile, indicating that the rare species is breeding…well then, it might be time to break out the champagne.
Despite its status as the national bird of Samoa, the endangered tooth-billed pigeon, or manumea, (Didunculus strigirostris) experienced a massive population crash in the 1990s. Last year I wrote that a 10-day expedition into remote forests of Samoa resulted in an observation of just a single bird. Researchers feared that just 200 manumea remained.
But now we may have more hope. This past December a team from the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was exploring the island of Savai’i, the largest of the Samoan Islands. One of the team members went outside to hang some wet clothes on a clothesline when he heard a noise. The team’s leader, Moeumu Uili, recounted the story to the conservation organization BirdLife International:
“He looked up the tree and saw a bird sitting up high on one of the tree branches. We got our binoculars and camera and started searching for the hooked bill, which is the bird’s distinguishing feature. I started taking as many pictures as I could before the bird flew off. A closer look using binoculars and we knew we had found it, the rare manumea. Everyone had questioned whether the bird still existed. Now we know it is still alive.”
And it wasn’t any old manumea. The bird they spotted was a juvenile, an indication that new birds are hatching on the island. “This is the first time breeding has been recorded in over 10 years,” biologist Rebecca Stirnemann, founder of Save the Biodiversity of Samoa, told Mongabay. She plans on trying to catch a manumea so it can be tagged and tracked, providing information on how the birds travel and nest and what they eat. None of that information yet exists in the scientific record.
Also known as the “little dodo,” the manumea is the only member of its genus and is the oldest relative of the famously extinct dodo (Raphus cucullatus).