A magnificent bird that met a sad end

In the words of Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. So why then would a scientist set out in search of one of the world’s rarest and most beautiful sentient creatures, find it, catch it… and kill it!


As you can tell from the photo, the Moustached Kingfisher may have been the very ‘thing’ countenanced by Keats when writing his poem. In shape and size and especially colouring, it is visually appealing. It is easy to understand why so much time and effort – not to say cost – had been put into its discovery.

The bird had been spoken about and partially documented. Natives of Western Pacific islands knew of its existence and early explorers provided generalised descriptions. Three specimens – all females – had been found and detailed 60 and 90 years earlier but science needed a cock bird to study. Its only known sighting was 150 years ago. It was almost as if, without finding an example to study, the species might remain little more than mythical.

A researcher from the American Museum of Natural History, Christopher Filardi, spent 20 years hunting this bird, among others. Defying incredible odds, Filardi and his mainly native team managed to capture one in a mist net in the highlands of Bouganville. It was a stunning specimen with cream belly, bright yellow beak, orange head and electric blue back. ‘Whiskers’ grew along the edge of its beak from nostril back to the joint of upper and lower beak, from which its name had been derived.

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Once seen and confirmed, weighed and photographed, would a responsible scientist not then release it back into its habitat? If so hard to find, so rare as to be relatively unseen for so long, might it not be endangered? Might not the loss of this apparently fit and virile male further imperil a species already so sparse in numbers? It would seem not. Filardi ‘collected’ it, that is, euthanased it for return to his campus for further study.

Surely, if such invasive techniques are necessary, the protocols are all wrong? It beggars belief that this scientist’s action was right. Just how intrusive should be the study of species? What will the body of that poor specimen provide? A chance to establish its genetic profile? And for what purpose? To show what a magnificent bird it would have been had it survived?

Perhaps the intent is to have a taxidermist create a ‘natural’ exhibit so that one day in another 150 years, someone can look at its mouldy remains and say, “A Moustached Kingfisher, indeed…!”

I am not against the advancement of science, per se, but find this appalling. What do you think?