Desert Tawny Owl: New Species of Bird Discovered

The Desert Tawny Owl (Strix hadorami). Image credit: © Rony Lybanah.

The Desert Tawny Owl (Strix hadorami). Image credit: © Rony Lybanah.

A group of ornithologists led by Dr Manuel Schweizer from the Natural History Museum of Bern in Switzerland has described a new cryptic species of owl that inhabits the desert areas of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Yemen.

The newly-discovered species, named the Desert Tawny Owl, belongs to the earless owl genus, Strix.

It is a medium-sized owl, 30 to 33 centimeters long, and weighing 140 to 220 grams. It resembles the Hume’s Owl (Strix butleri) and the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) in plumage pattern and proportions. Continue reading

New bird species discovered in forests of Indonesia

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa sodhii). Image credit: © Martin Lindop.

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa sodhii). Image credit: © Martin Lindop.

An international group of ornithologists from the United States and Indonesia led by Dr Berton Harris of Princeton University has described a new species of flycatcher from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

The new species, named the Sulawesi streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa sodhii), has awaited formal scientific description since 1997, when it was originally spotted in a patchy remnant of forest.

At the time, the bird was thought to be the migratory Gray-streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta).

Dr Harris and his colleagues traveled to Central Sulawesi in the summers of 2011 and 2012 to observe the bird and prove that it’s in fact a new species. Continue reading

Wakatobi Flowerpecker: New Colourful Species of Bird Discovered in Indonesia

Wakatobi Flowerpecker is believed to be an entirely new species.Trinity College Dublin/© 2014 Kelly et al

Wakatobi Flowerpecker is believed to be an entirely new species.Trinity College Dublin/© 2014 Kelly et al

A new species of bird has been discovered in Indonesia and has been dubbed the Wakatobi Flowerpecker.

Zoologists from Trinity College Dublin, describing their finding in the journal PLOS One, said the colourful bird from the Wakatobi Islands should be recognised as a unique species.

They found the species after numerous expeditions to South-east Sulawesi and its offshore islands.

While looking similar to the Grey-sided Flowerpecker, the Wakatobi Flowerpeckers are much larger and generally distinct, the authors said. Continue reading

New Bird Species Acts like a Ventriloquist

adult-warbler-jpgA new species of bird that lives in the jungles of the Philippines has been described in The Condor, the scientific journal of the Cooper Ornithological Society.

The forest-dwelling bird has strong legs but weak wings and can barely fly. It sings its birdsong at such a high pitch that it creates a ventriloquist effect in the forest, making it nearly impossible to locate the bird from its song alone. Continue reading

Scientist discovers new bird species in Peru’s ‘cloud forests’

youngscienti (1)A graduate student at the University of Kansas is the lead author on a recently published description of a new bird species, the Junin Tapaculo, found in the remote Andes Mountains of central Peru.

Following sightings by birders and leads fellow ornithologists, Peter Hosner, a doctoral student of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU, focused his fieldwork in Junin, a department in central Peru scarcely surveyed by ornithologists.

“We found the Junin Tapaculo in the field by its distinctive voice,” Hosner said. “I’d spent a lot of time traveling and working with birds in the Andes before I enrolled at KU, and I had never heard anything like it before. We made voice recordings and collected specimens that are needed in all scientific species descriptions. Tapaculos are extremely difficult to identify, so at this point we weren’t sure if it was a new species, or if we just happened to record a rarely given vocalization by an already described species.”

Because discoveries of new birds are rare, Hosner thought the vocalization might be a new sound from a bird already known to science. However, upon returning to Kansas, his quest for more information on the bird yielded nothing. Museum searches, consultations with experts and searches for archival sound recordings all pointed to the idea that Hosner may have uncovered a new species.

“In one archive, I found that birders had recorded the same unusual vocalizations, but on a different road about five kilometers away from our study site,” he said. “They had tentatively identified the recordings as a different species of tapaculo—a species which occurs in the same area. I also sequenced DNA and compared the sequences to known species. None matched. The appearance of the specimens, their unusual song and unique DNA convinced us it was new species—and I started writing up the description.”

Hosner’s paper on the new tapaculo appeared in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology last month. His co-authors are Town Peterson, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and curator at the Biodiversity Institute at KU, Mark Robbins of KU’s Biodiversity Institute, and Thomas Valqui of the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science and the Centro de Ornitologia y Biodiversidad in Lima, Peru.

Hosner said the Junin Tapaculo is small and uniform blackish in color. It is notable for its habit of sticking its tail straight up in the air. In appearance and behavior, the birds are similar to wrens, even though they are not closely related. They have been described as mouselike and photophobic.

“Tapaculos are recognized by ornithologists and birders as one of the most difficult bird families to observe in the field,” said Hosner. “They tend to be found near the ground in areas of thick, tangled vegetation. They’re active and almost never stop moving. Even if you can’t see the birds themselves, you can usually locate them by the movement of vegetation in their wake. They’re most easily seen by playing recordings of their songs to coax them out into the open. Because of this behavior, frustrated observers have suggested that tapaculos behave more like mice than they do birds.”

The scientists report the bird’s range is limited to a specific band of elevation within the Andes Mountains—between about 8,000 and 10,500 feet.

“The eastern slope of the Andes is steep and densely forested,” said Hosner. “With increasing elevation, it gradually becomes colder and wetter, and the trees become shorter. These forests are commonly called ‘cloud forests’ because it’s frequently foggy. They are constantly damp, and moss and epiphytes, like orchids and bromeliads, cover everything. They are some of the most beautiful forests in the world. Along with the vegetation, bird communities in the Andes change with elevation. Moving a few thousand feet up or down results in an almost completely different list of bird species. In Junin, we found six different species of tapaculos at different elevations, ranging from tall forest down low to grasslands above tree line.”

However, asked what was the most difficult part of describing a new species—the first of his career—the young KU scientist didn’t cite the bird’s remote habitat or hard-to-find lifestyle.

“It’s the associated paperwork,” he said. “It’s endless.”


New Bird Species Discovered in ‘Cloud Forest’ of Peru

120806135125-largeA colorful, fruit-eating bird with a black mask, pale belly and scarlet breast — never before described by science — has been discovered and named by Cornell University graduates following an expedition to the remote Peruvian Andes.

The Sira Barbet, Capito fitzpatricki, is described in a paper published in the July 2012 issue of The Auk, the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union.

The new species was discovered during a 2008 expedition led by Michael G. Harvey, Glenn Seeholzer and Ben Winger, young ornithologists who had recently graduated from Cornell at the time. They were accompanied by co-author Daniel Cáceres, a graduate of the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín in Arequipa, Peru, and local Ashéninka guides. The team discovered the barbet on a ridge of montane cloud forest in the Cerros del Sira range in the eastern Andes. Steep ridges and deep river gorges in the Andes produce many isolated habitats and microclimates that give rise to uniquely evolved species.

Though clearly a sister species of the Scarlet-banded Barbet, the Sira Barbet is readily distinguished by differences in color on the bird’s flanks, lower back and thighs, and a wider, darker scarlet breast band. By comparing mitochondrial DNA sequences of the new barbet to DNA sequences of its close relatives in the genus Capito, the team secured genetic evidence that this is a new species in the barbet family. The genetic work was done by co-author Jason Weckstein at The Field Museum in Chicago.

The team chose the scientific name of the new species Capito fitzpatricki in honor of Cornell Lab of Ornithology executive director John W. Fitzpatrick, who discovered and named seven new bird species in Peru during the 1970s and ’80s.

“Fitz has inspired generations of young ornithologists in scientific discovery and conservation,” said Winger. “He was behind us all the way when we presented our plan for this expedition.”

The 2008 expedition was made possible by funding from a special gift to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and donations to the Lab’s student World Series of Birding team, Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholars, National Geographic Young Explorers’ Grant, and the Explorers Club