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ScienceShot: New Bird Species Identified in Major City

Helen Fields is a freelance science writer based in Washington, D.C.

The Cambodian tailorbird didn't exactly go out of its way to stay unknown to science. Researchers have found this new species not veiled away in the deep, dark reaches of the Amazon, but hanging out at a construction site in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and home to 2 million people. The wrenlike flyers first turned up in 2009. They were caught in nets as part of routine sampling for bird flu and identified as a species of tailorbird, a group of tropical birds that get their name from the nests they build by sewing together leaves. But then last year, someone photographed the bird at a construction site. An expert saw the photo and got suspicious. Scientists found more of the birds and realized that they were dealing with something new: Orthotomus chaktomuk. (The latter word refers to the area where it was found.) You'd have to be a good birder to tell it from its closest relative, O. atrogularis; it comes down to subtle differences in coloring and a faster, more complicated-sounding song. Genetically they aren't very different either, but they're considered different species because they don't breed when they live in the same place, the team will report in the August issue of Forktail. The holotype, the individual that defines a new species, is an adult male whose skin now resides for posterity in the collections of the Natural History Museum at Tring, northwest of London—this time, for all to see.

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Posted in Plants & Animals