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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
'Voice box' to track Indian bird
By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

Jerdon's courser, RSPB
One of of India's most endangered birds
The technology that gives cuddly toys their life-like sounds is being used to locate one of the world's rarest birds.

The Jerdon's courser lives in a tiny area of Andhra Pradesh in India and is seen so infrequently that hardly anything is known about its behaviour.

But now the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has had noise boxes made up that mimic the animal's call.

Hundreds of park rangers will be given a box and a photograph and asked to report any sightings to ornithologists.

At night

A recording of the Jerdon's courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus) - the only one in existence - was made by Simon Wooton during a five-week field trip in one of the remotest parts of India.

"We had to see the bird and hear it at the same time to make sure we had the right call," he told BBC News Online.

"We saw it for about a second. Luckily, it called in flight, so we knew it was the right call." Wooton's group tried to track the bird, but lost it almost as quickly as they found it.

The courser was first identified by Dr Jerdon, a surgeon who travelled and wrote extensively about Indian wildlife in the middle of the 19th Century.

There have only ever been a handful of sightings. Indeed, so little is known about the bird that it was thought to be extinct for 80 years.

Then, one of the many teams that went to Andhra Pradesh to look for it discovered the animal was nocturnal.

Kew idea

Dr Rhys Green, an RSPB zoologist, was trying to find a novel way to increase awareness about the courser in India when an idea came to him while wandering around a gift shop in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London.

He came across a cuddly toy which makes a lifelike bird sound.

"If we could take the box that makes the sound out and reprogramme it with the sound of the courser, we could use it as an educational tool," he said.

He asked the manufacturers if they could re-work the "voice box" to incorporate the Jerdon's call, and now the little devices, packaged up with a photo of the bird, are on their way to Andhra Pradesh.

It is hoped the boxes will help conservationists track the courser, thus discovering more about one of the world's most elusive birds.

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