Discovered: a new species of robin

August 16th, 2008 - 4:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 16 (IANS) Smithsonian Institute scientists have discovered a new species of bird in Gabon, Africa, that was unknown to the scientific community. The newly found olive-backed forest robin was named by scientists for its distinctive olive back and rump. Adult birds measure 4.5 inches in length and average 18 grams in weight.

Males exhibit a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly, olive back and black feathers on the head. Females are similar, but less vibrant. Both sexes have a distinctive white dot on their face in front of each eye.

The bird was first observed by Smithsonian scientists in 2001 during a field expedition of the National Zoo’s Monitoring and Assessment of Biodiversity (MAB) Programme in southwest Gabon. It was initially thought, however, to be an immature individual of an already-recognised species.

Brian Schmidt, research ornithologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and a member of the MAB program’s team, returned to Washington, DC, from Gabon in 2003 with several specimens to enter into the museum’s bird collection.

When he compared them with other forest robins of the genus Stiphrornis in the collection, Schmidt immediately noticed differences in colour and plumage, and realised the newly collected birds might be unique.

“I suspected something when I found the first bird in Gabon since it didn’t exactly match any of the species descriptions in the field guides,” Schmidt said.

“Once I was able to compare them side by side to other specimens in our collections it was clear that these birds were special. You, of course, have to be cautious, but I was still very excited at the prospect of possibly having found a new species of bird.”

To ensure that the specimens Schmidt collected were a new species, geneticists at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo compared the DNA of the new specimens to that of the four known forest robin species. The results clearly showed that these birds were in fact a separate and distinct species.

Now officially recognized, the olive-backed forest robin brings Gabon’s number of known bird species to 753. Other than its existence, however, little is known to science about this newcomer.

The findings were published in the Friday edition of Zootaxa.

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