Nature Ramble

A very rare species seen.

Rare blackthroated blue robins spotted in China

A female blackthroat; the first ever sighted

Crucial new discoveries about one of the world’s least-known and rarest birds have been made by scientists.

The blackthroat, or blackthroated blue robin (Calliope obscura) is one of the world’s rarest “robins”, being known from only a handful of records since it was first described in the 1890s.

In 2011, experts resighted a small number of male blackthroats in China.

But now they have sighted a female and a breeding pair, learning more about the robin’s behaviour.

Details of the discovery are published in the Journal of Ornithology.

The species was first observed in 1886 in Gansu province, north west China.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, about 10 individuals were collected at two locations in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces between May and August, during what was thought to the bird’s breeding season.

Since then, there have been very few records of the species, the bird being occasionally sighted in China and Thailand, with a few specimens appearing in markets that trade birds.

The blackthroat is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and almost nothing was known about its behaviour or breeding.

In a bid to relocate the bird, a team of scientists based at the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, visited six national parks in central China, targeting habitats they thought it might frequent.

In 2011, they documented 14 males, recording the bird’s distinctive song.

Since then, they have managed to spot blackthroats, including a breeding female, on numerous occasions within three locations, as well as a nest with two chicks.

Many of the birds were found living in forests inundated with bamboo.

In total, 58 adult blackthroats have now been observed since the species was first discovered in 1886.

Male blackthroats can mimic other birds

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