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06/26/2013

Meet the Cambodian Tailorbird, a new species discovered in the middle of a major city

Tailorbird

A male Cambodian tailorbird, a bird only recently discovered by scientists within the city limits of Phnom Penh. (PHOTO CREDIT: Ashish John/WCS)

 

New species are usually found in dense untrafficked jungles, or deep under the sea.

But today, scientists announced that a new species of bird was discovered in the middle of a major Asian city.

The Cambodian tailorbird was discovered living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital and a city of 1.5 million people, according to research released today in the journal Forktail.

The tailorbird lives in tiny patches of floodplain scrub that remain in the middle of the city, as well as larger areas of the same habitat just outside Phnom Penh's limits. Some of the birds were discovered at a construction site, the researchers said.

The dense scrub is also the reason why the bird remained unknown for so long. One of the authors on the paper took a photograph of the tailorbird at a construction site, thinking it was similar species from the coast. But the researchers couldn't identify the bird in the photograph, and eventually realized it was an entirely new species.

One of those researchers, lead author Simon Mahood, called the find "extraordinary" -- especially because the bird exists 30 minutes from his house.

It has distinctive plumage and a loud call that can be heard in a recording by clicking here.

It is one of only two birds strictly native to Cambodia, the researchers said. The other, the Cambodian laughingthrush, lives in the Cardamom mountains, a remote range in the west of the country.

But the tailorbird, just as soon as it was discovered, might immediately enter the red list of endangered species. The researchers have recommended that the tailorbird be classified as "near threatened." Its habitat is quickly being eaten up, and is threatened by urban development. 

Just this week, BirdLife International released a report on the state of the world's birds indicating that global bird populations are in serious condition. The report argued that the declining fortunes of the world's birds is a bellwether for the state of global biodiversity overall.

The scientists who authored the paper announcing the new tailorbird are members of he Wildlife Conservation Society, BirdLife International, and the University of Kansas.

Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen.

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