The White-eyed River-martin is thought to be one of the most elusive species in the world.
A few years after its discovery in 1968 in southern Thailand the bird effectively vanished. A confirmed sighting has not been made for over 20 years and ornithologists fear the species may be extinct. The fact it remained undiscovered for so long brings hope that small populations of this cryptic bird may eluding detection in other parts of Asia. Broader surveys of forest, cave and river systems may hopefully yield surprising results. If the bird is located strict protection measures can be implemented and hope for the survival of the species restored. Habitat destruction and trapping are likely to be the main reasons for the species’ decline. Many White-eyed river-martins were trapped in the 1960s and 1970s. In the wave of public and media interest following the sensational discovery of the species trappers are rumoured to have caught around 120 individuals. Having been found on Thai soil and embellished with the name of Thai royalty there was significant local demand for specimens or caged examples of the species, for zoos, presentation to dignitaries or as private collections for the affluent. Destruction of the species’ remaining habitat is primarily the result of the burning of reeds for conversion to lotus cultivation. Additionally, there has been extensive modification of the river systems through the alteration of sand banks, and flooding caused by dam construction, all of which may have contributed to the species’ decline.
- Order: Passeriformes
- Family: Hirundinidae
- Population: <50
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 18cm
This species is only known from Bung Boraphet, a lake in South-central Thailand. It is speculated that nesting sites could occur on one of the four major rivers – the Ping, Wang, Yom, or Nan.
Habitat and Ecology
Very little is known about the habitat and ecology of the White-eyed River Martin. Parallels drawn from its close relative, the African river-martin, might suggest that the species inhabits the sandbars of large rivers. Individuals that were caught for ringing in 1968 did have mud and sand on their claws. Again at the African river-martin and the slightly broader bill of the White-eyed River Martin – it may be that they consume slightly larger prey, likely invertebrates, such as beetles.