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Blue-eyed Ground-Dove rediscovered in Brazil

São Paulo, May 23rd 2016 – A group of researchers, supported by Observatório de Aves – Instituto Butantan (Butantan Bird Observatory) and Sociedade para a Conservação das Aves do Brasi (SAVE Brasil), this weekend announced the rediscovery of one of the rarest bird species in the world. Known as the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove (Columbina cyanopis), it is critically endangered. The last confirmed record was 75 years ago, in 1941.

In the last few months, these researchers have been working to scientifically report the rediscovery and to develop a conservation plan. The Blue-eyed Ground-Dove occurs exclusively in Brazil and is threatened by the destruction of the Brazilian Cerrado, a savanna-like habitat. Up to this date, the ornithologists have found only 12 individuals of the species. “We are now worried about the conservation of the species. We are working on several fronts to build this plan. The main action is to ensure that the area where it was found becomes a protected area, which would benefit not only the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove, but many other threatened species occurring there,” explained the ornithologist Rafael Bessa, who rediscovered the species.

The cobalt-blue eyes and dark blue spots on the wings, highlighted on the overall reddish-chestnut plumage, are the singular marks of this species. “It is a very beautiful and extremely rare bird. The rediscovery of such an emblematic and poorly known bird exclusive from Brazil is a remarkable scientific find. This event has been highly celebrated, as most researchers thought the species could already be extinct. Increasing the knowledge on Brazilian biodiversity is the first step to ensure its conservation. And, by doing so, we contribute to a better quality of life and health for all species, including our own”, said Luciano Lima, from Observatório de Aves – Instituto Butantan.

Right after first spotting the bird, in July 2015, the ornithologist Rafael Bessa contacted Lima, from Observatório de Aves – Instituto Butantan. With the support from the Institute and SAVE Brasil – the Brazilian partner of BirdLife International that supports the research – they started studying the species. A research group was set up including the ornithologists Wagner Nogueira, Marco Rego and Glaucia Del Rio, the latter two from Louisiana State University (USA).

Clumbina cyanopis_Rafael BessaWithin the conservation plan, the researchers are undertaking studies on the biology of the species, focusing on behavior, breeding biology and feeding, among others. They are also doing expeditions to places with geographic and environmental features similar to the site of the original rediscovery, aiming to find additional populations. The search areas are identified through satellite imagery as well as Ecological Niche Modeling, whereby mathematical models predict areas potentially suitable for the species based on several environmental features of the sites where the species occurs.

“So far we have visited many areas in three states, but the species was located only in two sites close together, both in the state of Minas Gerais, which reinforces the need to urgent action to guarantee its survival”, warned the ornithologist Wagner Nogueira. The exact location where the species was found will not be announced by the researchers, until they conclude the conservation plan and the proposed measures may be enabled.

The announcement of the rediscovery was made last weekend, during the 11th Brazilian Birdwatching Festival (AvistarBrasil 2016), organized and hosted by Instituto Butantan. Up to the rediscovery, there was no photo or video of the Blue-eyed Ground-Dove in the wild, and not even its song was known. During the event, the ornithologists from the research group presented the first recordings and additional information on the species, which was previously known only from museum specimens and unsubstantiated reports.

About the Observatório de Aves – Instituto Butantan
The Observatório de Aves – Instituto Butantan was founded in 2014, under the coordination of Museu Biológico do Instituto Butantan. It is the first bird observatory in Brazil, aiming to achieve long-term monitoring of birds from different places to follow changes in wild bird populations in response to events such as climate change, as well as environmental surveillance monitoring. Further, it seeks to gather data on the biology and ecology of birds. The observatory also promotes educational activities devoted to science outreach, among them the #vempassarinhar, a public, monthly-based walk to watch birds in the Institute’s campus – a 80-hectare forest island in the otherwise urban area of São Paulo city. The Instituto Butantan also helps manage eBird in Brasil.

About SAVE Brasil
The Sociedade para a Conservação das Aves do Brasil (Society for the conservation of birds in Brasil; SAVE Brasil) was born from a project by BirdLife International, a global alliance that shares policies and conservation programs to identify and undertake immediate action to avoid bird extinction in Brazil. The organization works on the development and implementation of conservation strategies together with local organizations, governments, private companies, researchers and stakeholders. SAVE Brasil also helps manage eBird in Brasil.