In 1873, a local hunter working for German naturalist AB Meyer on Sangihe Island, Indonesia, collected an unknown blue songbird that turned out to be new to science. Despite further explorations, the Azure Flycatcher was not definitely seen again until 1998, after which its population was estimated at only 19–135 birds. Nearly 25 years later, surveys – including by Burung Indonesia (BirdLife Partner) – have revealed new locations but have not increased that initial estimate. Unequivocally one of the rarest rare birds in the world, the Azure Flycatcher is a BirdLife priority.
In 2007, BirdLife launched the Prevention of Extinction Program (PEP), seeking to understand the status of all bird species and to prevent, halt or reverse the slide towards extinction. Backed by BirdLife science, often supported by funding from Species Champions (dedicated benefactors) and working through local Species Guardians (BirdLife Partners and other frontline conservation organizations), the analysis of efforts since 2013 suggests that PEP has helped at least 726 globally threatened species. For Roger Safford, Senior Director of the PEP program, this sends a clear statement that extinctions resulting from human activity “simply are not acceptable”.
The “rarest of the rare” include extant Critically Endangered species currently considered to have the smallest populations in the world, often a few dozen individuals. They matter to BirdLife, Safford explains, “because there are no lost causes”. These species are “typically characteristic of extraordinary places with high levels of endemism and rare species groups. Working to save the rarest birds can bring wider benefits to threatened biodiversity.” So which are the rarest birds that benefit from BirdLife’s help – and how?