Our top “most wanted” lists by groups of species include those species that have been lost to science for at least a decade (and often for much longer!) and, like our top 25 “most wanted” species, may be lost for a variety of reasons. We worked with various IUCN Species Survival Commission Specialist Groups and other partners to determine these lists of flagship species. In some cases, biologists may be actively out searching—or interested in going out to search—for these species. In other cases, these species represent the kinds of compelling stories that can help raise their group’s public profile, even if nobody is out actively looking. They represent a broad geographical reach, and may present opportunities for inspiring conservation action.
Scientific name: Ophrysia superciliosa
Last seen: 1876 in India
Years lost: 142
A victim of colonial rapacity, the Himalayan Quail once quietly nested in the Western Himalayas of India. Last seen in 1876, the species has been missing for more than a century. The dates indicate that avid hunting during the colonial period precipitated the species’ near extinction. Subsequent sightings have been unverifiable; the most recent reported by a hunter citing a possible female in 2010.
Their lacquer red bills and legs, black face, and white forehead render the species a quiet beauty. Reserved in the extreme, the Himalayan Quail only ever revealed itself when practically stepped upon. Recorded periods of absence may indicate a migratory species, yet their reluctance to take flight and relatively short wings preclude long distance movement. Typically found in coveys of 6-12, the elusive birds congregate in tall grasses on steep slopes, feeding on grass seeds and probably insects. Little is known of the quail and its ecology, yet hope remains that a small number may yet persist in the more remote reaches of the middle and lower Himalayan range. Surveys must be undertaken throughout the Uttarakhand region to locate any lingering individuals.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: RHODONESSA CARYOPHYLLACEA
LAST SEEN: 1949 IN INDIA
YEARS LOST: 69
Pearls and pink. Humans pride themselves as aesthetes and creators, but habitually forget nature’s hegemony in that department. The Pink-headed Duck epitomizes the epithet, “Nature does it better.” Aptly named, males of this species boast a rich pink bill and head, while females have a pale pink head and a duller bill. The theme continues with the eggs; highly spherical and a creamy white, they could be mistaken for large, otherworldly pearls. Today, only rare photographs and historical records can attest to these beautiful traits. The Pink-headed Duck was last seen in 1949 in India. Always rare, it now faces extinction. Less than 50 individuals are likely surviving, if that. Once found in India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, even Nepal, the most recent and promising report originated in Northern Myanmar. The species could be nocturnal, partly accounting for the difficulty in finding the species, as well as explaining its unique coloring.
In 2017, a Search for Lost Species expedition in Kachin State, Myanmar failed to find any Pink-Headed Ducks. However, local interviews conducted by the team suggest that the bird has visited Indawgyi Lake, perhaps as recently as 2010. In addition to targeted searches, night surveys should also be made in suitable habitat areas throughout its historic range to locate this elusive species.
New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar
Scientific name: Aegotheles savesi
Last seen: 1998 in New Caledonia
Years lost: 20
The mysterious New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar was first seen in 1880 at Païta, near Nouméa. Since its discovery, other encounters with the species have been dishearteningly brief. The last possible sighting was in 1998 in the Rivière Ni Valley. The few individuals show a dusky, owlish creature with longish legs and a lengthy, slightly rounded tail; somewhat larger than its congeners. Very little is known of the nocturnal New Caledonian Nightjar, but it is probable that whatever tiny population persists remains confined to the remote reaches of forest massifs, such as at Kouakoue. That locals who were questioned knew nothing of its existence bodes ill for the singular bird. Without aid, the New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar population will continue to decline due to predation from invasive species, such as rats and feral cats. Logging and mining pose additional threats the species must contend with.
The multiple dangers accosting this enigmatic species calls for surveys to be conducted at and around the 1998 sighting location. Greater protection of Ni-Kouakoue could strengthen the bird's chances, as would an investigation of the efficacy and affordability of rat control in the area.
Scientific name: Gallinula silvestris
Last seen: 1953 on the Solomon Islands
Years lost: 65
A technicolor dream, the jewel-toned Makira Moorhen has been missing for more than half a century since it was last recorded in 1953 at Makira in the Solomon Islands. As a flightless and ground-dwelling bird, the Makira Moorhen is indeed rare, but its vibrant blue plumage, plus its red bill and legs render it striking and beautiful to behold. Unfortunately, few have had the privilege. Recent, weeklong surveys have yielded no sightings of the species. Expedition researchers conclude that if the bird still persists it is in few numbers. In 2004, claims were made of hearing its call, a high-pitched mewl akin to a cat’s meow.
The species is thought to dwell in rainforest on rocky hills amid small rivers. There is some speculation that the species may also reside in the unexplored swamps of north Makira. Introduced predators, such as feral cats and eye-attacking fire ants, have likely had a deleterious impact on the population. Tighter controls on logging and the creation of community-based protected areas are necessary to secure the future of the Makira Moorhen.
Scientific name: Charmosyna amabilis
Last seen: 2002 on the Fiji Islands
Years lost: 16
A veritable cocktail of color—vibrant red, lime green, mustard yellow—the Red-throated Lorikeet once flitted and squeaked on the islands of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Ovalau, Fiji. While always rare, the species has grievously declined in the last century. While the last well-documented sighting of the Red-throated Lorikeet was in 2002 on the island of Viti Levu; the second most recent sighting occurred a decade earlier in 1993; and the one before, decades earlier in 1965. The extended gaps between confirmed sightings indicate a population long fluttering on the brink. Hundreds of hours of recent searches in the species’ historic range have produced zero findings; scientists now fear possible extirpation on Viti Levu, once a Red-throated Lorikeet stronghold.
Usually found high in the canopy, the lorikeet feeds on the nectar and pollen of flowering trees located in primary forest. Reliant on old-growth forest, susceptible to predation, and having a montane distribution, the Red-throated Lorikeet is extremely vulnerable to threats; namely, ongoing deforestation throughout Fiji, introduced predators, particularly the Black Rat, and a rising climate. More surveys in Viti Levu and Taveuni must be undertaken to confirm the Red-throated Lorikeet’s existence.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: PYRRHURA SUBANDINA
LAST SEEN IN 1949 IN COLOMBIA
YEARS LOST: 69
mong parakeets, distinction is difficult. Every species is a visual delight, but it is absence that distinguishes the Sinú Parakeet. Missing since 1949, the species has only ever been found in the Sinú Valley of North Colombia. Knowledge of the species’ behavior and ecology remains insufficient. Recent, extensive searches for the parakeet in its historic range have been unsuccessful. Only 18 individuals have ever been recorded, and they were found at four locations. Of those four locales, two have already been deforested. Ongoing land conversion threatens to eradicate whatever suitable habitat left. Time and space are dwindling for the Sinú Parakeet. If a remnant population is found, immediate habitat protection is desperately needed.
Scientific name: Amazilla Alfaroana
Last seen: 1895 in Costa Rica
Years lost: 123 years
No one living today has seen the Guanacaste Hummingbird, giving it the feel of the mythological. At least, that is the general consensus. We can only confirm the hummingbird's existence from a single individual collected in 1895. Indeed, the species was only recognized as its own species in 2016 after further analysis of that individual.
The species was last and only seen at the Miravalles Volcano in Costa Rica. Attempts to find the species since have so far been unsuccessful, but it is unclear how in-depth these searches were. Fortunately, the forested area where the bird originates remains relatively intact, so if a population persists, there is a chance it is stable. Nevertheless, given its last confirmed sighting was in the 19th century, whatever population remains must be quite small and therefore, still at risk. More targeted searches in the Miravalles Volcano area and the Tilarán Highlands are urgently needed to ascertain the species' existence and ensure its survival.
Scientific name: Campephilus principalis
Last seen: 1987 in the United States
Years lost: 73 (but strongly debated)
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker has captured the minds and hearts of many an avid birdwatcher and ornithologist. Once found in bottomland hardwood and montane forests in the Southeastern United States and in Cuba, the bird has not been seen (and one must tread carefully here) in more than 20 years. Dozens of researchers and birdwatchers alike have come forward with claims that they have seen the bird; some even yielding photos and videos as murky and unclear as those chronicling yet another North American legend: Bigfoot.
Measuring roughly 20 inches long, with a 30-inch wingspan, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is only slightly smaller than Bigfoot, maybe. With its distinctive, large bill, mostly black plumage, and exquisite white stripes extending from cheek to mantle, the species is striking, and one would think hard to miss. However, the species bears a resemblance to another woodpecker species found in similar regions, the Pileated Woodpecker. Though smaller, the latter is often mistaken for the former.
While its continued prevalence remains hotly debated, there is no question that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is teetering on the edge of extinction. Evidence suggests the species requires large tracts of unfragmented forest to thrive, and extensive habitat loss in their historic range has made such an ideal virtually impossible. If the Ivory-billed Woodpecker survives, large, targeted searches are necessary to ascertain the number of individuals and at last demonstrate undeniable proof of its existence. Experts say the best chance for a rediscovery is likely in Cuba.
Scientific name: Calyptura cristata
Last seen: 1996 in Brazil
Years lost: 22 years
Similar in coloring to a pimento olive, the lovely Kinglet Calyptura teased the world with its presence in 1996 after more than 100 years of missing in action. Thought to be extinct at the time, two individuals were miraculously spotted over a period of several days in the Serra dos Órgãos, located north of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Reputable individuals reported sightings after the 1996 rediscovery, but secondary observers were unable to relocate the birds and recent search efforts have been unsuccessful. Worries of extinction loom large yet again.
Habitat loss attributed to diamond and gold mining, as well as the introduction of coffee plantations likely drove the species to its precarious state. Research indicates the small bird may be a seasonal altitudinal migrant, sequestered in the canopy and particularly drawn to bromeliads and mistletoe. Surveys centering on the Serra dos Órgãos region, and the state of São Paulo, are desperately needed. Moreover, preliminary conservation action must be taken to protect the remaining low-altitude forests of the 1996 rediscovery region, habitat essential for the species' posterity.
Scientific name: Setopagis maculosa
Last seen: 1917 in French Guiana
Years lost: 101
Shrouded in mystery and myth, the Cayenne Nightjar is only known from the single individual gathered in 1917 at Saut Tamanoir in French Guiana. There have been no official sightings since. Of the handful of near-encounters, the most promising took place at the Saül airstrip in 1982. In the fall of 1999, two other nightjars were seen near the same town, but these were probably members of a similar species, the Blackish Nightjar.
While very little is known of the behavior or biology of this neotropical bird, researchers believe the Cayenne Nightjar prefers small clearings within terra firme forest, as opposed to open areas with exposed vegetation. Unfortunately, dedicated attempts to find the bird in its alleged habitat have yielded nothing. Listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, cases like that of the Cayenne Nightjar are too numerous to count; the dangers they face all the more dire for conservationists’ lack of knowledge. Based on the limited knowledge available, researchers cannot deduce why the species has disappeared; suitable habitat for the species remains intact. More rigorous searches throughout the forests of French Guiana are desperately needed to find this lost avian.