India’s lost birds: pink headed duck & mountain quail

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India’s lost birds: pink headed duck & mountain quail
YOU probably knew about dodo, the extinct bird species from Australia, but do you know India also lost two bird species — pink-headed duck and mountain quail? There is no record of the pink-headed duck for 80 years now — the last reliable sighting was in 1935 — and no authentic sighting reported of a mountain quail in 140 years. It was last spotted in 1876 in Sher ka Danda near Nainital and, ironically, the bird spotter, Major Carwithen, killed the bird.

Mountain quail was discovered in 1846 by JE Gray. It took only 30 years for the bird to become extinct. According to famous bird expert, Pamela Rasmussen, there are nine specimens of mountain quails in the world, but none in India. Mountain quail was always an elusive bird, experts believe that this bird may be found in the hills of Nepal.

The last authentic report of a pink-headed duck was from Darbhanga in Bihar when it was shot by CM Inglis. But experts say the pink-headed duck might still be found in Myanmar.

There’s a renewed hope of finding these birds again — possibly because in recent times bird experts have rediscovered two birds, the forest owlet and Jerdon’s courser, that were considered extinct. In 1986, a bird scientist Bharat Bhushan rediscovered Jerdon’s courser in Andhra Pradesh’s Sri Lanka Malleswara wildlife sanctuary. Now six different location of this bird has been recorded but all from the same area. Similarly, forest owlet, which was first discovered by Congress founder and a famous ornithologist AO Hume in 1873 and was last sighted in 1884, was rediscovered by BF King and PC Rasmussen in the tropical forest of Shahada after 113 years. Now, many records of spotting, from almost 10 various sites, have been reported from central India.

Meanwhile, IUCN considers both pink-headed duck and mountain quail as critically endangered species by the IUCN. Even important bird books have not yet labelled them as extinct. Majority of the experts, too, think that they may be rediscovered in the near future.

Extinction means death of the last individual of a particular species. Many scientists believed that we are currently in the early stages of a human-caused extinction. Case in point are the many Indian vultures’ species whose population have reduced by 99 per cent. It is now is on the verge of extinction. There are 15 bird species that are considered critically endangered and 15 are endangered species in India as per IUCN. Perhaps someday someone will find the two lost birds. But we unless learn to share the planet with all its creatures, we are merely extending their day of doom.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at

Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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