Cebu Flowerpecker is world’s icon for biodiversity

Scientists thought this colorful local songbird was extinct, so when birdwatchers spotted the Cebu Flowerpecker again in 1992 in a mountain

village in Cebu City, the birding world rejoiced.

But no photograph has ever been taken of the bird, making it the “holy grail” of bird watchers here and abroad.

Only a painting and artist’s sketches give others visual clues of what the Cebu Flowerpecker looks like.

The bird, endemic to Cebu, rose to international prominence in August 2009 when it was chosen as the flagship species of BirdLife International, a group dedicated to conservation.

“The rediscovery of the Cebu Flowerpecker has given us Cebuanos a second chance to conserve the natural heritage of Cebu,” said Davao-born Lisa Marie Paguntalan, an ornithologist and conservation biologist.

The Cebu Flowerpecker was chosen over other species from countries like Colombia, Brazil and Indonesia because it is “critically endangered” in a country suffering rapid loss of biodiversity, Paguntalan said.

The selection was made during the annual British Birdwatching Fair held in 2009 in Rutland, England, which drew 20,000 bird enthusiasts from around the globe.

Less than 100 Cebu Flowerpeckers are believed to have survived the loss of its normal forest habitats.

The bird, which is found only in Cebu, is strikingly handsome, Paguntalan said.

Its scientific name, Dicaeum quadricolor, refers to its multicolored plumage (quadricolor means four colors): bluish black on the head and wings, grayish white on the underside, red on a V-shaped patch on its back and greenish yellow on its rump.

This bird feeds on insects on tree barks and in the leaves, nectar of flowers, berrylike fruits, ripe fruits of the Ficus (balete trees in the forest). It has also been observed eating spiders, Paguntalan said.

The bird “has an extremely small population and very small, severely fragmented range owing to catastrophic deforestation,” says the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) based in Gland, Switzerland.

The Cebu Flowerpecker was feared to have become extinct when all of Cebu’s forests were thought to have been destroyed, the IUCN says. In 1992, it was sighted again in Cebu City’s Tabunan forest. Barangay Tabunan is one of the city’s mountain villages.

Since 1992, the bird was seen again in three other sites—Nug-as forest in Alcoy town, Mount Lantoy, the highest peak in Argao town and Dalaguete town, all in southern Cebu.

“The maximum number seen together at any of these four sites is just four birds,” the IUCN says, “and the current population is estimated at 100 individuals, with 50 to 60 at Nug-as, 25 to 30 at Tabunan, and 10 to 15 at Dalaguete.”

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