Offbeat Video

By David Aspinall

A critically endangered bird thought to be extinct following a hurricane has been rediscovered by English students.

Endangered species the Bahama Nuthatch had been thought to have disappeared following Hurricane Matthew in September 2016, until now.

Pic from Matthew Gardne/Caters News

Matthew Gardner and David Pereira, maters students from the University of East Anglia (UEA), Norfolk, found the bird on the island of Grand Bahama, thought to be one of only two left in existence.

In partnership with Birdlife International and the Bahamas National Trust, the pair covered 700km of pine forest over three months, even playing recordings of the bird’s high-pitched, squeaky call, before capturing the elusive animal on film in May.

Matthew said: “We were the first to undertake such an exhaustive search through 700km of forest on foot.

“We had been scouring the forest and had almost lost hope. 

“At that point we’d walked about 400km. 

“Then, I suddenly heard its distinctive call and saw the unmistakable shape of a Nuthatch descending towards me. 

“I shouted with joy, I was ecstatic.” 

Pic from Matthew Gardne/Caters News

There had been a sharp decline in its population crashing from an estimated 1,800 in 2004 to just 23 being seen in a survey in 2007. 

The decline likely began in the 1950s due to habitat loss due to timber removal, and more recently due to hurricane damage, storm surges having killed large areas native forest.  

Dr Diana Bell, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “The Bahama Nuthatch is a critically endangered species, threatened by habitat destruction and degradation, invasive species, tourist developments, fires and hurricane damage.

“Our researchers looked for the bird across 464 survey points in 34,000 hectares of pine forest. 

“It must have been like looking for a needle in a hay stack.”

The team from UEA made six sightings, while another team led by Zeko McKenzie from the University of The Bahamas-North made a further five sightings.

Matthew said: “Our search was extremely thorough but we never saw two birds together, so we had thought there might only be one left in existence.” 

“The other team have reported seeing two together so that is promising. 

“However, these findings place the species on the verge of extinction and certainly amongst the world’s most critically endangered birds.

“We also don’t know the sex of the birds. In many cases when birds dwindle to such small numbers, any remaining birds are usually male.”