While many of the more than 10,000 species and 21,000 sub-species of the world's birds are part of our everyday lives – some surviving in even the most built-up urban habitats – there are some that are so elusive that sightings of them in their natural habitat are extremely rare. Quite often, the only way anyone aside from scientists or researchers can encounter these rare avians is on professional bird watching holidays; this kind of dedicated wildlife travel is becoming more and more popular. |
Rare, Beautiful and Mysterious
Bird watching holidays take participants to exotic locations all over the globe in search of rare and endemic species. While every country has its own list of rare and endangered avians, these three are recognised as some of the most enigmatic and beautiful of all.
New Zealand, Land of the Long White Cloud, is famous for many things – the critically endangered nocturnal kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) is one of them. Also known as the owl parrot, the kakapo can be dated back some 82 million years to when New Zealand broke off from Australia – an event that resulted in a predator-free habitat for the parrot. However, this lack of predators caused an unusual evolutionary change and the kakapo lost its ability to fly. Unfortunately, when cats and rats were introduced to the country to control wild rabbits, they also caused the decimation of the kakapo's numbers and today under 150 are believed to survive. Those who want to catch a sighting will have to travel to one of three small islands off the coast of New Zealand.
The Night Parrot
For nearly 80 years it was thought that the Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis), a parrot species endemic to Australia, was already extinct. However in 2013, after 15 years of searching, an Australian naturalist captured footage of the bird in outback Queensland. They are notoriously difficult to study due to their small size and extreme reticence, and very little is known about their behaviour, diet and range. Researchers are really only able to gain sightings or gather data by listening for their unique two-note calls – which they only emit at night, usually in the first hour after the sun sets.
The diminutive ground-dwelling Night Parrot looks like a domestic budgie, with yellow and green feathers, and certainly doesn't have the appearance of what's been described by the Smithsonian Institute as "one of the world's most elusive birds". Today there are estimated to be just 50-250 left in the wild in its habitat in Western Queensland.
The Ribbon-tailed Astrapia
The exquisite, vibrant plumage (and namesake) of this Papua New Guinean endemic species has been both a curse and a blessing from Nature. The Ribbon-tailed Astrapia (Astrapia mayeri) is a species of the renowned bird-of-paradise and, in proportion to its body, has the longest tail feathers of any avian species. These impressive tail feathers are a distinctive luminous green and bronze colour, and their striking appearance and length (three times their average 32cm body size) has seen the bird hunted to "near threatened" status by poachers.
The species only inhabits the dense forested highlands of New Guinea, one of the least explored areas on Earth. Professional bird watching holidays take participants deep into the spectacular virgin forests to search for this and other exotic species – including King of Saxony Birds-of-paradise and the stunning Brehm's Tiger-parrot.
The Experience of a Lifetime
Bird watching holidays are increasing in popularity as nature lovers join the race against time to enjoy the privilege of seeing some of the world's rare and endangered species in their natural (and in some places, dwindling) habitat.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bird watching. As a passionate lover of birds, Marissa chooses the expert-led bird watching holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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