The elusive South Philippine dwarf kingfisher is difficult to photograph, and there were no known photographs of its fledglings. The South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher has been photographed for the first time ever only a few months ago. The birds were first discovered back in 1890, but there was little documentation of it thanks to its elusive nature.
In 1890, explorers discovered the South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher, which is one of the country’s 255+ unique bird species.
Recently, thanks to Miguel David De Leon, an eye surgeon and bird enthusiast from the Philipines, the world got the first glance of the little pastel-colored bird, in 130 years. The doctor and his birding group, The Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy, explore the dense rainforests of the Philipines, hoping to snap a few pictures of new and exciting species. De Leon has been obsessed with learning more about the South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher, ever since he began bird watching ten years ago.
The elusive birds build their nests in tiny holes and cavities in trees, keeping their babies out of plain sight. As a result, no fledgling was ever caught on camera, and scientists knew very little about the sneaky bird’s lifecycle.
The bird is the tiniest species of forest kingfisher in the Philippines and is characterized by its striking plumage of metallic lilac, orange, and bright blue spots.
It is found in the virgin and second-growth forests in the islands of Mindanao and Basilan. The South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher has a unique call, described as a “high-pitched, insect-like, and almost inaudible zeeep.”
It has eluded scientists for over a hundred years because of its behavior. It is difficult to see as it perches quietly and darts invisibly from perch to perch.
Then, on March 11, 2020, everything changed. Dr. De Leon and his birding group finally spotted a baby South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher. The baby bird was calmly sitting on a branch, enabling De Leon to snap the very first photo of one. Scientists were surprised to learn that the fledglings change the colors of their beaks from black to orange as they grow older, a fact that prior to this photo, was unknown. Researchers will be able to use De Leon’s photos to further study these spectacular birds, and find how they can protect them.
“The Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy is a group of eight field workers and bird photographers that documents birds and habitats, contributing data previously unknown to science, with the ultimate goal of conserving species and ecosystems,” says De Leon in an interview with Esquire Philippines.
“We focus on poorly known birds and document their biology and ecology or how they interact with other organisms in their habitat,” he adds.
Well done Dr. Miguel David De Leon!
According to De Leon, there is more to conservation than just forest and trees.
“There’s more to bird conservation than just birds. By protecting and preserving habitats, we keep the circles of life within an ecosystem intact. The innumerable variety of insects that birds feed on, the unattractive shrubs that insects feed on, the fungi and bacteria that render the soil suitable for plant growth, and so on, they’re all indivisibly linked together.”
“The biggest threat to the decline or loss of our endemic and indigenous species is habitat loss. Hunting and trapping for food or the illegal pet trade are contributory factors as well. Culturally, recreational shooting of birds using airguns or slingshots puts further pressure on bird populations,” says De Leon.