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Pretty Phantom of Forest

Take a look at the picture of the mystical, magical and the beautiful – Ward’s Trogon. It’s a rare bird which is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of endangered species.

Adesh Shivkar spied it on a birding expedition to Eaglenest WLS, in Western Arunachal Pradesh back in March 2011. The common name of the bird is Ward’s Trogon (Harpactes Wardii). The site habitat of the bird is Temperate (moss laden) evergreen tropical forest at altitude 2,200mts.

Going into raptures about the sighting Shivkar says, “Perhaps one of the most charismatic species to see. This Asia’s rarest Trogon gave us a thrilling half hour sighting in the temperate evergreen forest of remote Arunachal Pradesh.

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The light drizzle, low light (ISO: 1200) and mist made it difficult to capture a good image, but with such a long sighting of both (male and female), it’s not fair that I should complain to get such record shots. The pair was still hanging around when we decided to leave.”

The unusual Trogon is as colourful and attractive as the famous Birds of Paradise and the Lyre birds of Australia. There are 40 species of the bird in the belt between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

Their brilliant red, pink orange or yellow colouring makes them so attractive. Their color hide them in the foliage of the trees. The word Trogon means ‘Gnawer’ in Greek. The connection is to the serrated beaks that they have, which help to grasp their prey while they eat.

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Trogons and their habitats face a severe depopulation process. This specie can only be found in scattered South East Asian temperate highlands woodlands, ranging from 1,500 to 3,000m in height.

He says this specie is near threatened as it’s sparsely distributed within a moderately small and patchy range. It’s likely to be declining moderately rapidly owing to habitat loss.

Harpactes Wardi is known from the eastern Himalayas in China (three were collected in north-west Yunnan, 1973), Bhutan (uncommon and local, although recorded regularly in recent years), India (small numbers seen recently in Arunachal Pradesh, where it is apparently local and rare), Myanmar (formerly locally common in north, but no recent records and thought to be generally uncommon) and Vietnam (previously common on mount Fan Si Pan, north-west Tonkin, but no recent records despite intensive searching).



The fossil record of the trogons dates back 49 million years to the Early Eocene.

This species is found in the lower reaches, in undergrowth and bamboo of tall broadleaved evergreen forest between 1,500 and 3,200 m, perhaps moving downslope during the cold season to c.1,220 m in some areas.

Cutting down forest trees and clearing woods in favor of cultivation and increasing agricultural areas destroy the habitat of Trogons. Additionally, Trogon’s beauty got to be a curse upon it, as Southeast Asians hunt it because of its attractive plumage.

Birdlife organizations conduct surveys to keep an eye on the range of the Trogons and or their depleting or growing numbers. These ecological studies conducted by scientists help to understand the birds habitat requirements and their tolerance of any human intrusion.

The studies also help scientists to encourage policy makers to protect habitat areas for the bird. Stories like these also raise awareness levels among the common man that the bird is endangered and needs conservation and protection from poachers and hunters.

This article is from Science’s archive and we’ve originally published it on an earlier date.