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eBird’s missing species — September 2014 update

Omani Owl photo by Arnoud van den Berg and The Sound Approach.

A lot has happened since our July 2014 article on “eBird’s Missing Species.” Shortly after our article was published, the August 2014 taxonomic update (which follows version 6.9 of the Clements Checklist) added 35 new species to the missing species list, mostly resulting from species splits. And over the past 45 days, dozens of birders have stepped up to enter records of the rare and little-known species that we highlighted. Thanks to your efforts, 92 species were added to eBird for the first time! eBird now contains records for 97% of the world’s species. That said, there’s still a lot of work to be done and 330 species still lack a valid record in eBird. For your enjoyment and inspiration, this article highlights the progress we’ve made and what has yet to be reported.

Here’s the breakdown of the missing species list as it currently stands: there are 330 missing species still on the list, but 75 are listed by the IUCN as extinct. An additional nine extinct species are entered as Not Evaluated because Clements gives them full species recognition, while the IUCN lists them as subspecies, bringing the total to 84 extinct species. Considering extant (not extinct) species only, eBirders have reported 10,055 out of 10,301 possible, for a total of 98% of extant species reported to eBird! Out of the remaining 246 species, BirdLife designates 35 species as Least Concern, 34 as Near Threatened, 30 as Vulnerable, 24 as Endangered, 42 as Critically Endangered, and seven as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). Lastly, 28 are Data Deficient, 44 are Not Evaluated, and two are Extinct in the Wild.

The eBird community responded in force to our original Missing Species article. There are some really dedicated eBirders out there! 92 species were taken off the list since we published it, and more records are coming in as this article goes out for publication. Some of these newly-submitted records aren’t actually new at all. For instance, Crested Shelduck (Tadorna cristata) and Jamaican Pauraque (Siphonorhis americana), both of which are likely extinct, are now represented in eBird by specimen records. However, the majority of the species added came from intrepid eBirders submitting recent records from the field. Some highlights include Colorful Puffleg (Eriocnemis mirabilis) from Nigel Voaden and Stresemann’s Bristlefront (Merulaxis stresemanni) from Nick Athanas and Alexandre Enout. Both of these Critically Endangered species have highly restricted ranges and are currently threatened by habitat fragmentation due to logging. They continue to persist thanks to the dedicated conservation efforts of Fundação Biodiversitas and Fundación ProAves, which have partnered with the American Bird Conservancy to establish the Mirabilis-Swarovski Bird Reserve and Reserva Mata do Passarinho, respectively. Fundación ProAves and the ABC have also created the Gorgeted Puffleg Reserve for the Gorgeted Puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae), which is still a missing species in eBird. It is worth noting that all three of these reserves ask that birders provide advance notice prior to visiting, and both of the puffleg reserves are closed to tourism at the time of this article’s publication due to security concerns.

The past month’s haul is rife with other interesting stories. Legendary birder Paul Sykes submitted 1983 sightings for the probably extinct Ou (Psittirostra psittacea) and the Kauai Oo (Moho braccatus), which went extinct just four years later. Erik Enbody and Cornell undergrad Ben Barkley made their mark on the missing species list by removing Goldie’s Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisaea decora) and keeping the freshly split D’Entrecasteaux Pitta (Erythropitta finschii) off the list! Now the only “missing” Bird-of-Paradise is the Bronze Parotia (Parotia berlepschi). Lastly, David Bishop, one of our Southeast Asia reviewers, entered records for Kofiau Paradise-Kingfisher (Tanysiptera ellioti) and Sula Pitta (Pitta dohertyi), and he says he can remove 20-30 species!

Moho braccatus

Kauai Oo (the last surviving individual). Photo by Robert Shallenberger/USFWS.

As for additions to the Missing Species list, the Omani Owl (Strix omanensis) made headlines when it was discovered in the spring of 2013 by Magnus Robb, Arnoud van den Berg, and Mark Constantine (Robb et al. 2013), and was added to eBird as a result of the 2014 taxonomic update. It would have been the most famous addition to our list, but, thankfully, Magnus was kind enough to enter a checklist for the very first encounter with this species, taking it right back off the list! On the note of recent discoveries, we wanted to note that we partially modified our “sighting probability” category to include a third category, “recently rediscovered” to adequately describe species like Tawny-headed Mountain-Finch (Leucosticte sillemi) that didn’t fit well into our previous two categories.

However, the 35 species added to our Missing Species were mainly a result of splits included in the August 2014 eBird taxonomy update. Perhaps the most enigmatic of these is New Caledonian Nightjar (Eurostopodus exul), which was split from White-throated Nightjar (Eurostopodus mysticalis). A critically endangered species that might be extinct, it is known only from a single 1939 specimen. Similarly, the four subspecies of the Bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon) complex were all given full species status. This split gives rise to the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus) of northeast Colombia, which has not been observed since 1946. With the splits, two new bird families are represented on the missing species list: Turquoise-throated Barbet (Psilopogon chersonesus), which was split from Blue-throated Barbet (Psilopogon asiaticus), joins the list as a Thailand endemic and the only missing Asian Barbet (Family: Megalaimidae); also, Abd’ Al Kuri Sparrow (Passer hemileucus), which was was split from Socotra Sparrow (Passer insularis), is now the only Old World Sparrow (Family: Passeridae) that lacks a record in eBird. Additionally, splits produced even more missing species from the Malay Archipelago, as numerous island endemic subspecies of white-eyes, monarchs, and pittas have now acquired full species status. The split of the Red-bellied Pitta complex into 16 species, in particular, contributed 7 species all from relatively small and remote islands from the Philippines to the Solomon Sea. Long story short, there are still lots of first records out there that are ripe for the picking! Will you be among the lucky few to eBird one of these species for the first time?

To conclude, we would like to express our deep appreciation for the important records that have already been submitted and the ones that are still coming in. All of this serves to highlight the fantastic contributions that the eBird community has made to birding and Ornithology, as well as how much work remains to be done. Though there likely won’t be another missing species article for a while, we plan on updating the spreadsheet periodically to keep track of eBird’s progress towards recording all of the world’s bird species!

Download the September 2014 versions of eBird’s Missing Species as spreadsheet or PDF.

Thanks again to Cornell students Andrew Dreelin and Reid Rumelt for this analysis and contribution. Andrew and Reid both wanted to thank Jeff Gerbracht–the lead application programmer at eBird–for his help and support in keeping the list updated during the time it took to write this article. He also entered in some neat historical records! Also, credit is due to Dan Lebbin, Benjamin Skolnik, and George Fenwick of ABC for providing details about ABC partners and their reserves.

Andrew and Reid provided these short bios. If you run into them in the field, be sure to say hi!

Andrew Dreelin is a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. He fell in love with birds, birding, and Ornithology during high school, and since then he has committed himself studying ecology and evolutionary biology, with the ultimate goal of becoming a conservation biologist. He is a passionate eBirder and helps with eBird and other projects at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 

Reid Rumelt is a rising Junior in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is passionate about applying his interests in computer science and analytical biology to pressing questions in ecology and conservation. His interests have led to his participation in a number of citizen science initiatives, including eMammal and the Encyclopedia of Life project at the Smithsonian Institution, as well as eBird and Merlin at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

References: 

BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 03/02/2014

Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, B.L. Sullivan, C. L. Wood, and D. Roberson. 2013. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Download it here.

eBird Basic Dataset. Version: EBD_relNov-2013. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. November 2013.

IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 03 March 2014.

Oxypogon cyanolaemus

Blue-bearded Helmetcrest