ST.KITTS BULLFINCH GRANTED FULL SPECIE STATUS—Although extinct for almost 100 years!!!
First endemic bird ever, for St. Kitts.
June 26, 2021 By Michael Ryan
St. Kitts had no endemic birds that were unique to us, and only found on the island, —until now —sort of!!
A few days ago, The American Ornithological Society (AOS) changed the status of the bird referred to as the St. Kitts Bullfinch to a full bird specie. For many years, the Puerto Rican Bullfinch had a designated sub-specie living in St. Kitts, known locally as the St. Kitts Bullfinch. However, the AOS have now formally amended the status of the St. Kitts bird from a sub-specie of the Puerto Rican Bullfinch (Milopyrrha Portorinsis) and split the specie to a new bird, now officially named the St. Kitts Bullfinch (Milopyrrha Grandis). So the newly designated bird specie is found only here in St. Kitts and nowhere else in the world! — sort of!
The St. Kitts Bullfinch has been considered extinct for almost 100 years, with the last official sighting occurring in 1929! But maybe not! Campbell Evelyn and his wife Joyce apparently saw one in 1993 up in the Stonefort Ghut area, but no photographs were taken. In 2012, a Caribbean Naturalist from Puerto Rico, Alejandro Sanchez was hiking up the volcano trail of Mount Liamuiga, and claims he positively identified the call of a Puerto Rican Bullfinch, but no sighting was made. In 2021, a scientific experiment undertaken through the Department of the Environment, recorded a bird song on a Sonagram, that may very well be from the St. Kitts Bullfinch. The scientists are still reviewing the evidence. So maybe it is still alive, holding precariously to life, and still flying up in the trees of Mount Liamuiga! Who knows?
Some people may ask, how can a bird change to become a separate bird specie, and especially one that is extinct for such a long period, and no longer around to observe. The answer to the first part of the question is evolution! If you take a bird specie (or any specie for that matter), and put it in a different environment, with different food sources, different plant life, different predators, different weather patterns, etc., it will adapt or it may not survive, and over a period of time it will change to suit the environment in which it exists. The beak may change over time as it feeds on different food, the wings may get larger as they have to fly faster to avoid predators, there may be less competition for the food source so over the time they may get larger as they are eating more nutritious food, and in larger quantities, the plant flora may change causing the bird’s colors to change for more camouflage etc. These types of factors will change the physical appearance of a bird over time.
The answer to the second part is observation! But how do we know what a St. Kitts Bullfinch looks like, if has been extinct for almost 100 years! Well, in the 1880’s or thereabouts, several Naturalists visited the island to study the local animal, plant and bird life, and they put up nets and caught a few specimens of the St. Kitts Bullfinch, and stuck them in a jar of alcohol/preservatives. There are 7 or 8 specimens in several different universities in the USA, and UK. Additionally, genetic testing has significantly improved over the past 10 or 15 years, and it is possible that this contributed to the decision.
Two gentlemen undertaking their studies for their PHD in 1992, studied and measured the preserved specimens and they found that the St. Kitts Bullfinch was about 25% larger in size, had bigger beaks, and had some slight color variations when compared to the Puerto Rican Bullfinch. They submitted their findings to the AOS recommending that the St. Kitts Bullfinch be categorized as a new specie, but at that time the AOS declined, as the source base of just 7 or 8 species as too limited to give adequate consideration.
But times change, and the St. Kitts Bullfinch is now a new and separate specie that was found in St. Kitts, and hopefully, is just waiting to be rediscovered!
More details can be found at https://www.aba.org/the-2021-aos-supplement-is-out/
Below in a picture of a Puerto Rican Bullfinch, and it is expected that the St. Kitts Bullfinch should look very similar!
Puerto Rican Bullfinch (male)– Louis Munoz, ebird S42335505, Macaulay Library ML83896181