New bird species discovered in forests of Indonesia

Sulawesi streaked flycatcher eluded human engagement for 15 years after first sighting

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher, Muscicapa sodhil, lives in the forested lowlands of Sulawesi  island in Indonesia. Photograph: Martin Lindop and Ticiana Jardim Marini.

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher, Muscicapa sodhil, lives in the forested lowlands of Sulawesi island in Indonesia. Photograph: Martin Lindop and Ticiana Jardim Marini.

 

A new bird species has been discovered in Indonesia, proving that there are still a few new things under the sun. The observation is even more surprising given the “new” species was first spotted in the forests of Sulawesi 15 years ago.

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher, Muscicapa sodhil, lives in the forested lowlands of the island and joins a host of similar flycatchers in this ecological hotspot.

But there is no doubt this is a new species given its unique plumage, body structure song and genetics, according to the US and Indonesian scientists who describe the bird in the current edition of PLOS One.

Tough customer

The newcomer is a bit of a toughie given it is surviving in a region of Sulawesi that has been heavily degraded by cacao plantations. It currently is not at risk of extinction but clearly the bird likes to fly below the radar given has eluded human engagement for 15 years since first sighting.

It seems poetic justice that the scientist that first identified the bird as something new in 1997, J Berton C Harris, is a also a co-author on the scientific paper that describes the flycatcher.

Expedition to Sulawesi

“Considering that 98 per cent of the world’s birds have been described, finding a new species is quite rare,” says Harris, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. The team also included researchers from Michigan State University and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

National Geographic Society put up funding to get the scientists into the field in 2011 and 2012, and coincidentally the discovery was made in the very region where the bird was first seen.

The scientists got all the data they needed including the bird’s high-pitched song book which includes chirps, whistles and trills.

“We were lucky to be able to make the first known recording of this bird singing,” says co-author Pam Rasmussen of Michigan State.

She runs the bird sounds website AVoCet where the bird’s song is archived.