January 18, 2010 / 1:49 AM / 8 years ago

"World's least known bird" found breeding in Afghanistan

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Researchers have found in Afghanistan the first known breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler, which was dubbed in 2007 as “the world’s least known bird species.”

Researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society and Sweden’s Gothenburg University said they had found the breeding area in the remote and rugged Wakhan Corridor of north-eastern Afghanistan that has escaped the worst effects of war.

They used field observations, museum specimens, DNA sequencing, and the first known audio recording of the species to find the birds and verified the discovery by capturing and releasing almost 20 birds, the largest number ever recorded.

A preliminary paper on the finding appears in BirdingASIA, describing the discovery in Afghanistan as “a watershed moment” in the study of this bird.

The first specimen of the large-billed reed warbler was discovered in India in 1867 but the second find was not until 2006 in Thailand.

“Practically nothing is known about this species, so this discovery of the breeding area represents a flood of new information on the large-billed reed warbler,” said Colin Poole of WCS’s Asia Program, in a statement.

“This new knowledge of the bird also indicates that the Wakhan Corridor still holds biological secrets and is critically important for future conservation efforts in Afghanistan.”

The find came after Robert Timmins from the WCS was conducting a survey of bird communities in the area.

The Wakhan Corridor has escaped the worst effects of the long years of war suffered elsewhere in Afghanistan since the December 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union. The corridor, populated primarily by Wakhi farmers and yurt-dwelling Kyrghyz herders, is also home to snow leopards and wild Marco Polo sheep.

Timmins heard a distinctive song coming from a small, olive-brown bird with a long bill which he taped and later discovered to be a large-billed reed warbler.

The following summer WCS researchers returned to the same area and used a recording of the song to bring out others and catch almost 20 birds for examination.

The WCS said it is currently the only organization conducting scientific conservation studies in Afghanistan, the first such efforts in over 30 years, and it has contributed to a number of conservation initiatives in tandem with the Afghan government.

It helped produce Afghanistan’s first list of protected species, an action that has led to a ban on hunting snow leopards, wolves, brown bears, and other species.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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