Friday, February 17, 2012

'Extinct' birds rediscovered on Ogasawara Islands

Bryan's shearwaters, rare seabirds formerly believed extinct worldwide, still survive in the remote Ogasawara Islands, a research group of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Ibaraki Prefecture said.

Several hundred of the birds now inhabit the islands, which are hundreds of kilometers south of mainland Japan but officially part of Tokyo, according to the group at the independent administrative institute. Experts said the discovery proves the value of the ecosystem on the islands, which were added last year to UNESCO's list of World Natural Heritage Sites.

The official Japanese name for the Bryan's shearwater is expected to be the "Ogasawara himemizunagidori" (Ogasawara little shearwater). It measures 25 to 30 centimeters in length, with long tail feathers and blue legs.

Shearwaters spend most of their lives at sea, but make nests on cliffs or by making holes in the ground on islands during the breeding season.

Bryan's shearwaters were believed extinct because the last one ever identified was found in the Midway Islands in 1991, and the last one before that was found in the same islands in 1963.

However, the institute's analysis of the DNA of six birds found in the Ogasawara Islands since 1997 has proved they are Bryan's shearwaters.

It is rare to rediscover birds once they are thought to have become extinct. The last previous case in Japan was the rediscovery of albatrosses in the Izu island chain in 1951.

"We'd like to maintain Ogasawara's biodiversity, through extermination of predators such as nonnative rats," said Kazuto Kawakami, chief researcher at the institute.
(Feb. 16, 2012)

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