New Bird Species Discovered Hiding In Cambodia’s Capital

A team of scientists has discovered a previously undocumented species of bird living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.

Asian Scientist (Jul. 2, 2013) – A team of scientists has discovered a new species of bird with distinct plumage and a loud call living not in some remote jungle, but in Phnom Penh, a capital city of 1.5 million people.

The previously undocumented species, called the Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), was found in Cambodia’s urbanized capitol Phnom Penh and several other locations, including a construction site, just outside the city.

According the scientists, who described the bird in the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Forktail, it is one of only two bird species found solely in Cambodia. The other, the Cambodian laughingthrush, is restricted to the remote Cardamom Mountains.

The wren-sized gray bird with a rufous cap and black throat lives in dense, humid lowland scrub in Phnom Penh and other sites in the floodplain.

Its scientific name ‘chaktomuk’ is an old Khmer word meaning four-faces, perfectly describing where the bird is found: the area centered in Phnom Penh where the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers come together.

Only tiny fragments of floodplain scrub remain in Phnom Penh, but larger areas persist just outside the city limits where the Cambodian Tailorbird is abundant.

The authors say that the bird’s habitat is declining and recommend that the species be classified as “Near Threatened” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

“The modern discovery of an un-described bird species within the limits of a large populous city – not to mention 30 minutes from my home – is extraordinary,” said lead author Simon Mahood, who began investigating the previously undocumented species when co-author Ashish John took photographs of what was first thought to be a similar, coastal species of tailorbird at a construction site on the edge of Phnom Penh.

“The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations.”

The last two decades have seen a sharp increase in the number of new bird species emerging from Indochina, mostly due to exploration of remote areas. Newly described birds include various babbler species from isolated mountains in Vietnam, the bizarre bare-faced bulbul from Lao PDR and the Mekong wagtail.


Source: Wildlife Conservation Society. Photo: Ashish John/WCS.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Yew Chung is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore.

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