Opinion: Stuff digital! Kill the bird

So if you’ve read other posts on my blog you will know I am a bit of a birdwatcher, I admit it, I am biased toward nature. And I do a bit of work in the field of digital capability and technology. But anyway, read on…

The “Guadalcanal Moustached Kingfisher” it sounds fabulous, a stunning bird. Known as a Ghost Species because since it was first described from a single female specimen 1920’s there have only been two others found, also both female in the 1950’s.

And then! Chris Filardi, director of a project in Guadacanal in the Soloman Islands surveying the endemic biodiversity and working with local partners to create a protected area found a Male!

I have taken the photo from their website – please get in touch and tell me I am bad person, after you have finished reading the blog.

Chris Filardi, who describes himself as a scientist, and who works for the American Museum of Natural History wrote eloquently on his blog:

Guadalcanal Moustached Kingfisher Photo credit: Sammy Qalokale.
Guadalcanal Moustached Kingfisher Photo credit: Sammy Qalokale.

“After several days of work, it is clear we are on the shores of an island in the sky. Species we encounter here are of two worlds – one that descends to the humid, coastal plain and another that rises into the cool, cloud-raked mountains of Tetena-Haiaja. Just as the white sands of an island beach divide land and sea, the ascending Chupukama ridge marks the transition from a world of known lowland organisms to a sky island filled with scientific mystery.

In the western Pacific, first among these ‘ghost species’ is Moustached Kingfisher, a bird I have sought for nearly 20 years. Described by a single female specimen in the 1920s, two more females brought to collectors by local hunters in the early 1950s, and only glimpsed in the wild once. Scientists have never observed a male. Its voice and habits are poorly known. Given its history of eluding detection, realistic hopes of finding the bird were slim.”


Too cut a long story short he found one, and he caught it.



Let’s get back on to Digital Capabilities and Technology.

If you can catch a bird like this you have lots of options. Digital Camera’s and video obviously film it, record it’s call, take lots of macro photographs and lots of ‘portraits’ so that you have a complete visual and audio record.

More than that we have the capability to take DNA samples safely in the field.

But what else can we learn. There is a lot of technology we could deploy such as tracking devices, these can be GPS or even blue tooth, so that the bird can be refound, by use of base stations (these are relatively cheap (hundreds of $ not thousands).

What we could have discovered is incredible.

But Chris Filardi appears to be a scientist in the tradition of Victorians.

He killed it and sent it to the ironically named Center for Biodiversity and Conservation
at the American Museum of Natural History. This is apparently a common practice for American institutions.

I apologise for my language – Chris Filardi you’re a Dick!


  1. As a (pretend) Zoologist, I have a few thoughts about this.
    The fact is that in this case, the scientist was acting in accordance with majority scientific opinion. I’m not defending his actions and clearly the outcome is tragic, but it is likely that photographic evidence alone might not have been accepted as definitive ID in this case.
    As an amateur entomologist I choose not to take voucher specimens precisely because I do not know the size of the population I am sampling from and so cannot predict the consequences. In the above case, the population size was known and the consequences were predictable. However, with many species requiring microscopy for accurate ID, not taking specimens makes me less effective as a wildlife recorder, and likely to miss rarities which I cannot positively identify in the field.
    In general terms, there is no easy answer to this one. In specific terms, in the above case the wrong decision was made.

  2. Totally agree with you, Lawrie. Today, scientists have so many tools to study organisms, that what this guy has done is stupid and unethical.

  3. Very eloquently put Lawrie, I cannot get my head around why scientific opinion has not caught up with modern technology. I get that years ago a specimen was required as proof, but with DNA techniques as they are and modern digital equipment trapping, measuring, sampling and releasing makes far more sense than killing to study later.


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