After 170 years, the black-browed babbler reappeared in a Borneo forest, leaving ornithologists stunned — and delighted.
The first and only known specimen of the black-browed babbler was collected in Indonesia in the 1850s. Because it was wrongly labeled as being from Java instead of Borneo, people searching for more black-browed babblers never discovered any. The error was eventually corrected, but still, no one was able to find the bird.
In 2016, the bird-watching group BW Galeatus was established in Borneo. Two members had questions about a black and brown bird they would sometimes see in a forest in Borneo's South Kalimantan province. The men, Muhammad Suranto and Muhammad Rizky Fauzan, captured one of these birds in October, and sent photos to another member. It looked like the black-browed babbler, but since that seemed too good to be true, he forwarded the photos to experts.
When the bird was confirmed as a black-browed babbler, ornithologist Panji Gusti Akbar told The New York Times, he felt "excitement, disbelief, and a lot of happiness." Ding Li Yong, a conservationist with BirdLife International, said it "took me a while to come to grips with this thing. I had a tear in my eye."
The bird was released back into the wild, and once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, several experts plan on traveling to Borneo so they can learn more about the elusive black-browed babbler. The hope is that this finding will help get people in the region excited about birds and nature, plus get tourists to visit. "We're now seeing this bird alive for the first time in all of its natural glory," Yong told the Times. "Borneo is an island of surprises, and there's a lot to still be discovered and learned." Catherine Garcia