Monday, 20 January 2014

Obscure bird of the week: Araripe Manakin

If ever you think about going somewhere and finding a new species, you wouldn't be mad in expecting something small, brown and streaky and if we're honest, a little bit unimaginative. I'm pretty sure this is what Galileu Coelho and Weber Silva were thinking when they entered the Charape do Araripe in upland Brazil.
I can't imagine what it must've been like to stumble across the beautiful, the amazing, the mind blowing Araripe manakin (Antilophia bokermanni).
What a bird! In a million years I couldn't even design a bird that looked like that using all the colours of the rainbow...mind you, there is no black in the rainbow, so I would be at a disadvantage from the start!
Anyway, I'm going off subject. This species is within the genus Antilophia which it shares with just one species, the helmeted manakin (Antilophia galeata). This species, although still quite beautiful, is potentially the most Darth Vader look a like of all birds! You can practically see it designing the Death Star! It's even helmeted! (see fig. A)
Fig. A. Manakin Skywalker trys to turn his only relative to the dark side
The all-black Manakin Skywalker is currently doing OK. He's least concern to conservationists, but it's not all fun and games with our other little Brazilian jewel (I'm pretty sure that's something off The Only Way is Essex).
First of all we've got the name...if you go on Youtube and search for 'talking dogs'...the husky that says 'I love you' almost certainly could have 'Araripe manakin' in its repertoire! (Maybe I've just had to say Araripe manakin in my head too much whilst researching this blog post...)

Secondly, they say the star that shines twice as bright lives half as long. This metaphor could well be used to describe the conservation status of our lovely manakin. They are certainly one of the prettiest birds in the world, but the question as to how long the species may exist isn't quite such a pretty picture. The species is incredibly rare and is currently listed as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small known range, within which it is subject to continuing pressure from agriculture and the development of recreational facilities in the local area.

It's therefore not all that surprising that this species was only seen for the first time in 1996. Subsequent censuses in the area to assess population have come up with an estimate of 800 birds, so the ongoing decline of the population is potentially only going to end one way!

It's not all bad news though! The Araripe manakin has one thing going for it that several critically endangered species conventionally do's bloody gorgeous! As a result, this little superstar has many fans. The area of forest adjacent to the breeding habitat is protected as an area designated for 'sustainable use', however this is not the case for the known breeding habitat of the species, so it is not an area exempt from exploitation just like the vast majority of the rest of the rainforest. However, the local land owner of the forest is charmed by the presence of the species and has set out to conserve it himself by personally extending the conservation area.

Maybe this species having such a restricted area is a positive, despite making it so vulnerable to change. It means that in an area so susceptible to exploitation; the Amazon Rainforest, a small area is much easier to conserve.
©Ciro Albano
Hopefully, if you didn't know about this species before reading about it here, I've helped to spread the word of a species that could do with a bit of press. If you did already know about this species, then hopefully you appreciated my amazing Star Wars pun....

-Zac Hinchcliffe
When Zac's not counting birds on patch (or making references to Star Wars), he's usually ringing birds on his regular Bangor site or is depressed that he does't have the money or time to twitch the latest big thing. Zac is 21 and currently studying a Research Masters at Bangor University and investigating Welsh Twite; adding a touch of science to his birding.

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