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New shearwater discovered, possibly gone

Via DC Birding Blog

Bryans-shearwater-1-300x278 It's not the ABA area but a fascinating story nonetheless.  A Shearwater collected on Midway in the northwest Hawaiian Islands in 1963, and originally identified as a Little Shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) has been determined these nearly 50 years later to be a completely new species, now called Bryan's Shearwater

The Bryan’s Shearwater is the smallest shearwater known to exist. It is black and white with a black or blue-gray bill and blue legs. Biologists found the species in a burrow among a colony of petrels during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program in 1963. Peter Pyle, an ornithologist at the Institute for Bird Populations, recently examined the specimen and found that it was too small to be a Little Shearwater (P. assimilis) and that it had a distinct appearance.

The species is known solely from that original specimen.  Noone knows where it breeds or even whether its presence in Hawaii was a fluke or indicative of a breeding presence.  The species remains, in many ways, a complete mystery and may even be extinct given the complete absence of reports since the original collection. 

But just as likely is that a colony of this smallest shearwater is hanging on on some desolate island in the Pacific basin.  There's certainly a track record for the rediscovery of seabirds long written off and there's no reason to think Bryan's Shearwater couldn't be another.  At least, it's a hope we can hold on to. 

The formal description, published in a recent issue of The Condor, can be found here.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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