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One hundred and forty years ago, ornithologists discovered a very rare and mysterious bird on an obscure island named Fergusson (which is part of the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago just northeast of Papua New Guinea)…uh…then they sort of lost track of it for the next 14 decades. The bird was the black-naped pheasant-pigeon (Otidiphaps insularis) a lovely–albeit reclusive–ground dwelling pigeon with a black body and orange/red wings (and glittering blood red eyes). Very little is known about the bird because it has not been officially documented nor studied by scientists since it was discovered in 1884. Indeed, researchers who returned to Fergusson in 2019 were hard pressed to find anyone there who has seen the bird since the 1990s. The black-naped pigeon seemed to have quietly receded into extinction–if it ever even existed.

But the black-naped pigeon did exist! It still does! After talking to Augustin Gregory, a hunter who had seen the “auwo” (the local Papuan name for the pigeon) the ornithologists put hidden cameras on Fergusson’s highest peak, the 6,801 feet (2,073 meter) tall Mt. Kilkerran. This year, just as the expedition was wrapping up, the cameras took a picture of one of the furtive pigeons! These lovely birds have not yet flown away from Earth to join the passenger pigeon, the dodo, the lordly crested Choiseul pigeon, and the pink pigeon of Réunion (some famous extinct pigeons).

Of course, who knows how much longer the black-naped pigeon will continue to be with us? Researchers found a single bird (and it was located in a part of the forest scheduled to be timbered). It is unclear how large the remaining population is or whether the birds will be able to survive the changes coming to Fergusson (and the larger changes coming to the entire planetary atmosphere). But for now, this shy yet lovely bird is still here! Most of the beautiful and amazing animals of the Holocene still are (admittedly in greatly reduced numbers). If only humankind could find a way to show off for each other which did not involve super-use of earth’s resources maybe we could keep not just the black-naped pigeon, but also the black rhino, the panda, the Asian elephant and so many other endangered creatures. Maybe instead of clothes which we wear once and then throw out, or cars which are too fast to drive, we could impress potential mates with a beautiful fan of svelte black tail feathers! (although, to be honest, human females have been unenthused about my beautiful ruddy sweater vest–so maybe we are stuck with over-the-top materialism (or some even-harder-to-obtain status signifier) for the foreseeable future).

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