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This Just (Flew) In: The Formerly 'Extinct' Jerdon's Babbler

Birders and scientists who thought Jerdon's babbler had gone the way of the passenger pigeon now have something to crow about: it turns out that the sparrow-sized tan-colored bird is still among us, despite having been written out of the birding guides in 1941.

The discovery, announced only recently, was actually made last May by a team from Myanmar's Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division and the National University of Singapore.

"The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon's Babbler extinct," Colin Poole, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's regional conservation hub in Singapore, said in a statement quoted by The Associated Press.

The joint Myanmar-Singapore team was surveying one of the area's few remaining grasslands when they heard the bird's distinct call, recorded it and played it back to see if there were others.

And there were.

The team was "rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon's babbler," Phys.org says. "Over the next 48 hours, the team repeatedly found Jerdon's babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and managed to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs," the website says.

DNA contained in the blood samples could answer conclusively whether the Jerdon's babbler found in Myanmar — currently considered one of three subspecies with the two others in India — are in fact a distinctive species, according to Phys.org.

"Our sound recordings indicate that there may be pronounced bioacoustic differences between the Myanmar subspecies and those [farther] west, and genetic data may well confirm the distinctness of the Myanmar population," Singapore National University assistant professor Frank Rheindt said, according to the website.

Jerdon's babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) was first described in 1862 by British naturalist T.C. Jerdon, but it was last seen in southern Burma's Sittaung River floodplain in 1941, National Geographic reports.

According to NatGeo, over the past century, the area where the bird was rediscovered "has been transformed from mostly bird-friendly grasslands to a more human-dominated landscape of settlements and farms."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.