Birds of a new feather

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Published: February 14, 2016 12:11:12 AM

Here’s looking at some of the new avian species discovered in the recent past

IN JANUARY, bird watchers in the country had reason to rejoice when a new species of bird was discovered in the north-eastern region of India and adjacent parts of China. It was found by a team of scientists from Sweden, China, the US, India and Russia. The team was led by Professor Per Alström of Uppsala University and Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Sweden.

Incidentally, this is only the fourth new bird species discovered from India since 1949 and the first one in a decade. The bird has been named ‘Himalayan forest thrush’ (Zoothera salimalii). The scientific name honours the great Indian ornithologist Sálim Ali (1896-1987) in recognition of his huge contributions to the development of Indian ornithology and nature conservation. The Himalayan forest thrush was first discovered when it was realised that what was considered a single species, the Plain-backed thrush (Zoothera mollissima), was, in fact, two different species in north-eastern India.

What first caught the attention of scientists was the fact that the Plain-backed thrushes in the coniferous and mixed forests had a rather musical song. This was in contrast to the species found on the bare rocky ground above the treeline in the same area, which produced a much harsher, scratchier and unmusical sound. Interestingly, in the past 15 years on an average, approximately five new species have been discovered annually—mainly in South America. Here are some of the incredible bird species discovered around the world in the past couple of years:

Sichuan bush warbler (Locustella chengi)

It is a relatively small bird, with an average length of 13 cm and weight of 10 gm. The wing length is 5.5 cm and the tail is 5.7-cm-long. This new bird is exceedingly secretive and difficult to spot, as its preferred habitat is dense brush and tea plantations. As per scientists, it is endemic to China, breeding in Shaanxi, Sichuan, Guizhou, Hubei and north-west Hunan.

Perijá tapaculo (Scytalopus perijanus)

The Perijá tapaculo is a small bird with a buffy belly, grey back and brown nape. Its song and calls are distinctly different from those of other tapaculos. Its high level of genetic divergence from its closest relatives suggests that its high mountain habitat has isolated it from its cousins for a significant amount of time, as per an international group of ornithologists led by Jorge Enrique Avendaño of the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. This species is found in the humid montane and elfin forests (1,600-3,225 m elevation) of Colombia and Venezuela.

Desert tawny owl (Strix hadorami)

The desert tawny owl belongs to the earless owl genus, Strix. It is a medium-sized owl, 30- to 33-cm-long and weighing 140-220 gm.

It resembles Hume’s owl (Strix butleri) and the tawny owl

(Strix aluco) in the plumage pattern and proportions. This bird lives in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, north-west to the port of Hurghada, as well as the Sinai Desert. It can also be found in southern and eastern Israel; Negev and Judean Deserts; Jordan; and northern, central and north-eastern Saudi Arabia.

Inaguan lyretail (Calliphlox lyrura)

The Inaguan lyretail was formerly grouped as a sub-species of the Bahama woodstar, but is now considered a distinct species. This bird belongs to the North American branch of the bee hummingbird group Mellisugini. As per a group of ornithologists led by Christopher James Clark of the University of California, Riverside, it occurs only on the islands of Great and Little Inagua, Bahamas.

Australian little penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae)

The Australian little penguin stands at an average height of 12 inches (30 cm) and has a weight of 1.15 kg. The species is widely distributed in Australia—from western Australia along the southern coast of Australia up to New South Wales. It is also present in Otago in the remote south-east corner of New Zealand’s South Island.

Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus)

The Cape parrot, formerly a sub-species of Poicephalus robustus parrot, was raised to a full species by a team of scientists from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The species is endemic to South Africa.

Paragallinula, a new monotypic genus

Paragallinula is a new monotypic genus described for what was previously known as Gallinula angulata (lesser moorhen).

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