Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rare Crow Rediscovered

Researchers in Indonesia have refound a rare crow species, Banggai Crow (Corvus unicolor), that had been considered extinct.

The Banggai Crow was believed by many to be extinct until Indonesian biologists finally secured two new specimens on Peleng Island in 2007. Pamela Rasmussen, an MSU assistant professor of zoology and renowned species sleuth, provided conclusive verification.

An ornithologist who specializes on the birds of southern Asia, Rasmussen studied the two century-old specimens known as Corvus unicolor in New York's American Museum of Natural History. She compared them to the new crow specimens in Indonesia's national museum, to lay to rest speculation that they were merely a subspecies of a different crow. The more common Slender-billed Crow, or Corvus enca, also is found in the Banggai Islands, and likewise is all black.
Apparently eye color is a significant characteristic for differentiating the two species, in addition to the morphometric analysis that Rasmussen performed on the specimens.

So instead of being extinct, the Banggai Crow is simply critically endangered. Like other rare species, it faces a multitude of threats (and potential threats), primarily habitat loss and hunting. With a bird species rare enough to be thought extinct, the collection of new specimens will always raise some eyebrows. At least in this case we know that there are still living Banggai Crows since some birders have since found more in the same area. As long as some members of the species are alive, there is still hope for keeping them that way.