After years of trying, one man thinks he will finally find a bird long thought to be extinct.June 01, 2017
by Sarah Laskow
by Sarah Laskow
More than a century ago, in the wetlands around Kolkata, India, there lived a shy type of duck with a bright pink head. It was named, appropriately, the pink-headed duck. The males of the species had rosy pink bills and pink plumage covering their heads and necks. Some of them had light, blush-colored feathers; others were as bright as Pepto-Bismol. They were never particularly common, but hunters spotted them and on occasion bagged them while hunting bigger game. One of the last times anyone saw a pink-headed duck in the wild, it was in the mouth of a hunting dog, who delivered its carcass to Charles M. Inglis, curator of the Darjeeling museum, outside the Indian city of Darbhanga in June 1935.
Officially, the pink-headed duck is listed as critically endangered. The last confirmed sighting in the wild was in 1949. Though there have been reports of pink-headed ducks here and there in the decades since, many people now believe the birds are not just rare and shy, but extinct.
Richard Thorns is not among them. For years now, he has been searching for the pink-headed duck, and, since 2009, he has traveled six times to Myanmar, where he believes a flock of about 50 birds might live. Thorns, an enthusiastic, 53-year-old Englishman whose look can range from scholarly nerd to rugged adventurer, first learned about the pink-headed duck around 1997, from a library book on vanishing birds. At the time, he was working as a shop assistant. As he read about these stunning, rare birds, and the elephant grasses and lotus flowers that they lived among, he had a realization. “I didn’t want to be a shop assistant anymore,” he says. “I decided to look for the pink-headed duck. So I did, and I’ve been after it ever since.”