Bird of the Year: Black-Naped Pheasant-Pigeon
2022 was an incredible year for birds, but this elusive beauty takes the cake.
This is our last blog of 2022. See you in 2023!
In the pantheon of Earth’s fauna, birds are literally and figuratively top-tier. They’re not even in the hall of fame building, because they’re flying hundreds of feet above it, laughing their asses off. As such, naming a king among kings is a flight of fancy more than anything else, but frankly, we love those here at Discourse Blog. Almost as much as we love birds themselves.
I’ll be honest. At first, I thought it might be impossible to name a bird of the year. Would it be the drug-taking, safe sex icons the great bustards? Australia’s night parrot?? Wisdom, the oldest bird in the world?? Truly any bird because there actually is no wrong choice??? It was a daunting prospect. But as 2022 lurched to its bitter end, a clear champion presented itself:
This, my friends, is the black-naped pheasant-pigeon. The multi-hyphenate treasure resides on an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, is a chicken-sized, ground-dwelling bird with a pheasant-like tail (hence the name), and is not to be confused with other pheasant pigeons of the world. It also hasn’t been scientifically observed in over a century. What? Yes!!!
This BNPP was identified and captured on film earlier this year as part of an expedition, and co-leader Jordan Boersma’s recollection of the sighting is enough to make you want to abandon the life path you’re on and pick up some binoculars and never put them down.
“Suddenly I was confronted with this image of what at that time felt like a mythical creature,” Boersma told The Audubon Society. “It was, without exaggeration, the most surreal moment of my life.”
If you’re not already screaming, here’s John C. Mittermeier, another co-leader of the expedition: “To find something that’s been gone for that long, that you’re thinking is almost extinct, and then to figure out that it’s not extinct, it feels like finding a unicorn or a Bigfoot.”
Phew. Understandably, scientists had thought that the BNPP—which was first and last described in 1882—might now be extinct. They note that they would not have spotted the creature alive and well in 2022 without the help of local hunters, whose guidance is a testament to the value of Indigenous communities in knowing and protecting the worlds’ species. Now that the black-naped pheasant-pigeon has been seen, the challenge of keeping the critically endangered species alive begins, as human encroachment and pressure from the logging industry threatens its precious existence.
This blog loves pigeons (even when they’re called doves) and we love pheasants (see #8), so even before its headline-making reappearance, the black-naped pheasant-pigeon would have been an easy choice for Bird of the Year. I mean, just look at it! But the fact that it's a species that also does not wish to be perceived by humans makes it an absolute legend and extremely of the moment. One hundred-plus years evading our toxic asses? Living its life in glorious peace? That is truly some king shit. The black-naped pheasant-pigeon knows we are a force of evil for it and so many other animals on this planet, and its heartbreakingly small population is a perfect, fleeting snapshot of what we’re losing as the climate change crisis escalates.
We can hope that the news around the black-naped pheasant-pigeon’s rediscovery will help its chances for conservation and survival, but it’s just one of many creatures who need saving. It’s one of several “lost” birds that haven’t been documented in over 10 years, and ornithologists are at work collecting data and pursuing these species, but their status on earth is literally unknown at this moment.
So yeah, the black-naped pheasant-pigeon rules in every sense, and I’m thrilled to know its out there, but now I hope it can continue to live in peace, far from the grasp of outside forces and threats of industry. It will continue to live, quietly dodging the mortifying ordeal of being known, as long as we let it.
If you’re curious and dying for more black-naped pheasant-pigeon content, unfortunately there isn’t much, but the other pheasant-pigeons of the world are also stunning and worth your time:
And if you need even more end-of-year bird joy, our Bird of the Week archive is brimming with spectacular specimens from all over the world. And if you’re so inclined, I recommend participating in the deeply wholesome and actually useful Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which runs from December 14 and January 5. It’s an easy way to become a citizen scientist, connects you to local birders, helps with desperately-needed conservation efforts, and provides the kind of local knowledge that made the black-naped pheasant-pigeon’s recent detection possible. Plus it’s a great excuse to get away from your family and go for a walk, and it might actually improve your mental health.
Thanks so much for joining us in our adoration for the feathered flyers among us all year long. We’ll be back in 2023 with even more birds, and if you have any recommendations, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.