Scientist Chris Filardi is a fieldwork researcher making headlines after he reported how after two decades of searching for a rare bird, he then euthanized it for scientific purposes.
Filardi, the director to Pacific Programs for the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, is an expert on the male Moustached Kingfisher, which has been described as a “ghost bird” because it hasn’t been seen very often.
What happened after the researchers found the bird has been criticized. On Facebook, the American Museum of Natural History tried to set the record straight. It says the bird is not rare, although it is “rarely studied.”
Editor’s Note: Last week, we published a story detailing how researchers in Guadalcanal had found and photographed the first male Moustached Kingfisher ever recorded, then euthanized the individual bird to preserve as part of the scientific record. Many readers expressed concern at the specimen collection, so we reached out to the researcher, who explains his decision below.
Here’s Filardi’s response to the issue:
A little less than 2 weeks ago, I captured a poorly known bird, photographed it, and then euthanized and prepared the bird as a scientific specimen. This was neither an easy decision nor one made in the spur of the moment.
For a quarter century I have worked to sustain wild country, the nations of non-human organisms thriving there, and our own species’ interactions with these places—the ragged, untrammeled edges of a world increasingly dominated by our collective patterns of consumption. Our recent fieldwork was not just about finding the Moustached Kingfisher. This was not a “trophy hunt.”
In a video posted about the research, the scientists showed viewers what they were doing in Guadacanal.
Filardi says over the last two decades he has spent time in remote and not so remote, forests of the Solomon Islands and has watched the whole populations of birds decline and disappear. The reason he attributes to their decline was man-made. Habitats were disappearing because of poorly managed logging operations, and more recently, mining.
The real discovery from the trip, according to Filardi, was not that his team found an individual Moustached Kingfisher but that they discovered that the world in which the species inhabits is still thriving in a rich and timeess way.
The researchers heard the unmistakable call of the Moustached Kingfisher–a distinctive ko-ko-ko-ko–in its first full day in the field.
Over the next several days, they assessed the population of birds across the area, recording several calling individuals in an area totaling about a square kilometer, estimating three pairs and possible offspring or social groupings. In one instance, Filardi’s researchers found three birds in a small forest glade.
Though sightings and information about the bird are rare in the ornithological community, the bird itself is not. Elders of the local land-owning tribe (now living at lower elevations) relate stories of eating Mbarikuku, the local name for the bird; our local partners knew it as unremarkably common. With a remote range so difficult to access, there has been a perception of rarity because so few outside people or scientists have seen or otherwise recorded the bird. As I wrote from the field, this is a bird that is poorly known and elusive to western science—not rare or in imminent danger of extinction.
They set fine “mist” nets out in the forest with the hope of capturing an individual, and after a cloud-raked morning of dripping rains and cold winds, they captured a male bird, identifiable by its magnificent all-blue back (females have greenish backs).
When I came upon the netted bird in the cool shadowy light of the forest I gasped aloud, “Oh my god, the kingfisher.” One of the most poorly known birds in the world was there, in front of me, like a creature of myth come to life.
Filardi said he is convinced that the sample he collected will be contribute to a better understanding of the species.
[T]he Moustached Kingfisher I collected is a symbol of hope and a purveyor of possibility, not a record of loss.