British students spot rare Bahama Nuthatch by using recording of its distinctive birdsong

  • By ITV News Science and Health Producer, Patrick Russell

One of the world's rarest birds has been rediscovered by a group of British students in the Bahamas.

The Bahama Nuthatch had been feared extinct following catastrophic damage to its habitat caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

The elusive bird is an endangered species only found in a small area of pine forest on Grand Bahama Island, which lies approximately 100 miles off Florida.

There had been a sharp decline in the Bahama Nuthatch population, crashing from an estimated 1,800 in 2004 to just 23 being seen in a survey in 2007.

The decline likely began in the 1950s due to habitat loss caused by timber removal, and more recently due to hurricane damage to forests.

University of East Anglia masters students Matthew Gardner and David Pereira set out on a three-month gruelling expedition in April to try and spot the bird.

The pair explored 700km of dense forest on foot playing recordings of the bird’s distinctive squeaky call in order to attract it.

Matthew Gardner and David Pereira set off on a gruelling expedition to the Bahamas to track down the rare bird. Credit: Matthew Gardner, University of East Anglia

Mr Gardner said: "We had been scouring the forest for about six weeks, and had almost lost hope. At that point we’d walked about 400km.

"Then, I suddenly heard its distinctive call and saw the unmistakable shape of a Nuthatch descending towards me. I shouted with joy, I was ecstatic!"

The students managed to capture six sightings of the bird on camera.

Another local team also independently made five sightings, using different methods, in the same small area of forest – including a sighting of what they believe to be two birds together.

The Masters students only spotted a solo bird warning that it might be the only one in existence. Credit: Matthew Gardner, University of East Anglia

Mr Gardner said: “During three months of intensive searching we made six Bahama Nuthatch sightings. Our search was extremely thorough but we never saw two birds together, so we had thought there might only be one left in existence.

"The other team have claimed to see two together so that is promising.

"However, these findings place the species on the verge of extinction and certainly amongst the world's most critically endangered birds."

The researchers will now work with the Bahamas National Trust using the findings to help protect the remaining birds.

Mr Gardner said: "This certainly does give us more of a chance to help them survive. We have been speaking to experts about the possibility of captive breeding programmes that could go ahead."

Dr Diana Bell, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: "The bad news is we are about to go into hurricane season on the island again and after this years strong weather patterns who knows what it is going to be like. Another hurricane hitting the island would be deadly for this species."