For the Birds Radio Program: Birds in the News

Original Air Date: Aug. 19, 2004

A tern die-off in Massachusetts, a rare bird turning up in Massachusetts, and discovery of a “new species” that indigenous people had known about all along are the stories this week.

Audio missing


Birds in the News

This week there has been a lot of bird news. On the sad and scary front, over 1200 fledgling Common Terns at Monomoy NWR in Massachusetts have been reported dead in the past couple of weeks by USFWS personnel. The Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) at Tufts is working with collaborators to try to identify the cause of these mortalities, and we’re collecting any additional reports of dead and dying terns.

On the brighter side in Massachusetts, the first North American and Western hemisphere record of Red-footed Falcon is being seen on a small airstrip managed by the Nature Conservancy on Martha’s Vineyard. The bird was first discovered on August 8th by Vernon Laux, conclusively identified on August 10th by Jeremiah Trimble, and seen daily since then, at least through August 18. Thousands of birders have been showing up to add the bird to their life lists, and because this story has generated so much publicity, plenty of non-birders are checking out the scene, too. Field guide illustrator David Sibley created a special webpage with a drawing of the bird and identification tips, which I’ve linked on my webpage. For more information about the bird and how to see it go to, or to

If it’s exciting to see a new bird never before seen on our continent, imagine the thrill of seeing a bird never before seen in the world. Scientists have discovered a new species of flightless bird on a remote island in the Philippines, the conservation group BirdLife International said Tuesday. The bird, about the size of a crow, was found on the island of Calayan in the northern Philippines about 40 miles (70 kilometers) off the coast. Like its closest relative, the Okinawa Rail G. okinawae from Okinawa Island, 1,000 km to the north in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan, the new species appears to be almost flightless. The two rails closely resemble one another in size and structure .

The bird was discovered just before noon on 11 May 2004, when Carmella Espanola was walking through a clearing and heard unfamiliar calls that drew her attention to a group of four rails in the undergrowth. Shortly afterwards she watched two birds cross the trail and begin feeding. They were all dark, with orange-red bill and legs and appeared to be the same size as Barred Rail, a common species on the island. Carmella took notes and photographs, and recorded the calls. But her account of the sighting had Des Allen, an expert on oriental birds, completely stumped. Next day he went to the same area, and heard unfamiliar “loud, rasping trumpeting calls”, interspersed with the calls Carmella had recorded. He played back her recording, and a bird answered it and later he saw the unmistakable silhouette of a medium-sized rail. Returning towards camp, Des heard the calls again in an area of primary forest. This time, playback attracted a rail to within two metres of where he stood. From the uniform dark plumage, red legs and medium-length red bill, Des knew that this was something unknown. Later that day he made a short video-recording of one of the rails, and showed it to the other team members. Over subsequent days, the team observed the birds many times. In fact, the number of sightings indicated that the rail was quite common in the area. Discussions with local people established the rail was well known to them, and had a local name of “piding.” So once again, something brand new to science turns out to be old news to indigenous people.