The possibility of laying eyes on a species which is believed to have disappeared forever might be every birdwatcher's dream. Birdlife International, a group dedicated to conserving the world's birds, wants to make those dreams a reality.

The organization has launched a fantastical quest to confirm the continued existence of 47 species of bird that haven't been seen for up to 184 years, but which could still be alive. The assembled list is a treasure trove of colorful characters:

"The mention of species such as ivory-billed woodpecker, Jamaican petrel, hooded seedeater, Himalayan quail and pink-headed duck will set scientists' pulses racing. Some of these species haven’t been seen by any living person, but birdwatchers around the world still dream of rediscovering these long-lost ghosts," said Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International's chief executive.

If a species is rediscovered, it would be considered a lazarus species, a title given to any creature that is found alive after being considered extinct for some time. It's something that has happened before — and in dramatic fashion. For instance, Coelacanth (Latimeria), a member of a clade (Coelacanthimorpha) of ancient fish, was thought to have gone extinct 80 million years ago. It was found in 1938. The Laotian rock rat was believed extinct for 11 million years before one was discovered in 1996.

Stories like these bring optimism that a glimmer of hope still remains for many species that have disappeared more recently. In fact, one of the birds on the list, the ivory-billed woodpecker, was believed to have been spotted in 1999 and again in 2005, where reports of a sighting were made in Arkansas. Birdlife International has high hopes to confirm the existence of the species so that it might be conserved.

The quest was announced at the 21st British Birdwatching Fair, which this year was appropriately emblemized by the rare and endangered Cebu flowerpecker, a lazarus species rediscovered in 1992 in the Philippines. Martin Davies, co-organiser of the British Birdwatching Fair, said: "During the BirdFair's 21-year history we have funded many conservation projects that have benefited species of bird threatened with extinction. It would be a great legacy if funds from British birdwatchers prove the survival of formerly lost species."

The end goal of the quest is, of course, the conservation of species. Should these species be rediscovered, radical conservation efforts to keep them alive could gain steam. "The extinction crisis is gathering momentum, but that’s no excuse for humanity to allow even more strands from the web of life to disappear, especially without giving them a final chance of life," said Lambertini.

Source: Birdlife International

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Quest for 47 species of 'extinct' birds is launched
BirdLife International has launched an unprecedented search for 47 bird species which haven't been seen for up to 184 years.