Spying the Nest of One of Earth’s Rarest Birds
Stresemann's Bristlefront. Photo: Ciro Albano
Like a forest ghost, the critically endangeredStresemann’s Bristlefront has been spotted only three times since its discovery in the 1830s. But recently, Brazilian researchers at the Mata do Passarinho Reserve in Brazil spied the endemic bird, and this time, with an added bonus: the first-ever sighting of its nest. This leaves conservationists hopeful—a hard-to-imagine emotion regarding a bird species with a population estimated at 15 members strong.
“This is the discovery of a lifetime, Alexandre Enout, manager of Mata do Passarinho Reserve, told the American Bird Conservancy. “Not only have we found live adult birds, but we have also found strong evidence of several chicks as well.”
The bird—males wear slate-colored plumage while the females have distinctive rusty-hued chests—exhibit a cluster of bristly feathers that fan out above the eyes like a stern brow, hence the ‘bristle’ in its name. Found in the 1830s, the creature flitted in and out of birders’ notebooks, surfacing in 1945, 1995, and then again in 2004. As a result of its secretiveness, very little is known about this species.
Conservationists do know that Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a diverse area packed with endemic species, is the Stresemann’s Bristlefront’s home. However, the forest exists at 10 percent of its original extent. The region faces a bevy of threats that include urban encroachment along its eastern stretch, illegal logging, forest fires, and forest plantations. These problems loom over the area as a whole. The bird’s range appears limited to the forest’s neighboring states of Bahia and Minas Gerais, the only two places it has ever been found.
Now that the bird has been spotted again, the most immediate concern is how to extend its currently stable habitat. Its territory is protected, and the Mata do Passarinho Reserve adequately serves the needs of this ground-nester, which specifically seeks humid, valley floors in the forest. But at just 1,500 acres, the area functions as a tiny buffer against the patchy surrounding areas. Consequently, rampant wildfires could be a threat, according to Scientific American. “It is urgent that we protect more of the natural Atlantic Forest in this area and reforest areas where forest has been lost,” Enout told American Bird Conservancy. “The best way to save this species is by increasing its potential habitat.”
The American Bird Conservancy, which funded establishment of the conservation area, is now working with its partner in Brazil, the non-profit Fundação Biodiversitas, to extend the bird’s parameters. (Fundação Biodiversitas also runs the reserve.).
Understanding more about the creature will help them do just that—and discovering the endangered bird’s nest prompted surveying that will add to the slim knowledge base. It’s already proving useful: Brazilian researchers spied a furtive male at the entrance to a six-foot-deep tunnel, and watched as he carried food inside. “No one is going near the nest now, and there are no plans to try to see all of the way into it,” David A. Wiedenfeld, a conservation science specialist with American Bird Conservancy, told Scientific American. “No one wants to disturb a nest of a species that is that rare.”!--/end tags-->