Feast your eyes on the first photographs ever taken of the male moustached kingfisher, a “ghost species” that has eluded scientists since the 1920’s.

Chris Filardi is director of Pacific Programs at the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. This month, he has been blogging from the remote highlands of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, where he is surveying endemic biodiversity and working with local partners to create a protected area. You can read the rest of his posts from this expedition here. Chris wrote about this find of a lifetime.

“In the western Pacific, first among these ghost species is the moustached kingfisher (currently classified as Actenoides bougainvillei excelsus), a bird I have sought for nearly 20 years. Described by two female specimens brought to collectors by local hunters in the 1920s, the bird has only been glimpsed in the wild once. Scientists have never observed a male. Its voice and habits are poorly known. Given its history of eluding detection, realistic hopes of finding the bird were slim.

Until on our third morning we heard an unmistakable “ko-ko-ko-kokokokokokokoko-kiew” of a bird that could only be a large forest kingfisher. We paused, waited for what seemed like eternity, and then heard another cry from the mossy forest. It had to be the bird.


Within moments our eyes caught movement: a large shadow of wings and a thick body abruptly stopped in a tangle. Our recordist Frank Lambert saw the bird first and called me over. There in plain sight pumping its tail, crest alert, in full colors, was the moustached kingfisher. And then, like a ghost, it was gone.

But only for the moment. Over the next several days, we continued to hear birds calling sporadically in taller moss forests of the ridge, but had a difficult time finding them. We set fine “mist” nets out in the forest with the hope of capturing an individual, and after a cloud-raked morning of dripping rains and cold winds, we captured a male bird, identifiable by its magnificent all-blue back (females have greenish backs). When I came upon the netted bird in the cool shadowy light of the forest I gasped aloud, “Oh my god, the kingfisher.” One of the most poorly known birds in the world was there, in front of me, like a creature of myth come to life.


We now have the first photos ever taken of the bird, as well as the first definitive recordings of its unmistakable call. But this find is more than a scientific discovery. For countless generations, the people of Guadalcanal have lived with and known these remarkable and elusive birds. Uluna-Sutahuri people call the bird Mbarikuku, and the older Uluna members of our team all had stories of encounters with it from their youth.

This ghost-like, poorly known bird of legend for us was all along part of a familiar sense of place here on Guadalcanal. In the end, we did not only find the bird, but also encountered its world still thriving. It’s a world trapped among competing histories that vie to define its future, a future that remains largely in the hands of a people who had a name for Mbarikuku all along.”


This post was originally published on the Museum blog. Images: © R.Moyle, M. Janda, S. Galokale