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Endangered bird feared extinct makes dramatic reappearance

Researchers conducted an epic search to find the rare Bahama Nuthatch.

The Bahama Nuthatch isn't gone yet, but it's still endangered.

Matthew Gardner, University of East Anglia

Six weeks and a 250-mile (400-kilometer) trek on foot through a thick forest. That's what it took for a research team to rediscover an endangered bird thought likely to be extinct.

The team, led by students from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, went in search of what the university describes as "one of the rarest birds in the Western Hemisphere." 

The Bahama Nuthatch looked like a goner after the devastation of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The dainty bird is found only in a pine forest on Grand Bahama Island. UEA released brief video footage of the bird this week.

The nuthatch was estimated to have a population of about 1,800 in 2004, but a 2007 survey uncovered just 23 birds. Habitat destruction due to logging and storm damage have contributed to the bird's precarious situation. 

The team played a recording of the nuthatch's "distinctive high-pitched squeaky call" to lure it out of hiding. "Our researchers looked for the bird across 464 survey points in 34,000 hectares of pine forest," said Diana Bell from UEA's School of Biological Sciences, who likened the expedition "looking for a needle in a haystack." 

A second team led by students from the University of The Bahamas-North also scoured the forest. Both teams separately caught sight of the birds in May. The UEA team logged six sightings while the other team counted five, including one of two birds together.

Despite the joy of finding the elusive bird, some of the researchers aren't optimistic about its prospects. 

"Sadly," Bell said, "we think that the chances of bringing this bird back from the brink of extinction are very slim, due to the very low numbers left, and because we are not sure of the precise drivers for its decline." 

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