Loud, Red-Headed Bird Species Discovered

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A redheaded bird with a loud call would hardly seem to be hiding from the world, but researchers only recently discovered it singing away in a Cambodian jungle.

Called the Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), it’s one of only two avian species found solely in Cambodia. The other one sounds equally distinctive. It’s called the Cambodian laughingthrush, and it is restricted to the remote Cardamom Mountains.

Aside from its red head, the Cambodian tailorbird sports a black throat. It lives in a dense, humid lowland jungle just outside of Cambodia’s urbanized capitol of Phnom Penh. It’s described in the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Forktail.

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“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,” lead author Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said in a press release. “The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations.”

The bird’s scientific name (chaktomuk) is an old Khmer word meaning four-faces. It describes where the bird is found: the area centered in Phnom Penh where the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers come together.

Unfortunately this bucolic-sounding area is under threat from human encroachment. Our agriculture and urban activities keep pushing into such areas, pushing the native wildlife out.

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The WCS has already recommended that the new species be classified as Near Threatened under the IUCN’s Red List. Fortunately, the bird is found in the Baray Bengal Florican Conservation Area, where WCS is now working with local communities and the Forestry Administration to protect the Bengal florican and other threatened birds.

The last two decades have seen a sharp increase in the number of new bird species emerging from this and nearby regions, 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 Laos and the Mekong wagtail, first described in 2001 by WCS and other partners.

As Colin Poole, director of WCS Singapore and a co-author of the study on the new bird, said, “This discovery is one of several from Indochina in recent years, underscoring the region’s global importance for bird conservation.”

Co-author Jonathan C. Eames of BirdLife International’s OBE added, “Most newly discovered bird species in recent years have proved to be threatened with extinction or of conservation concern, highlighting the crisis facing the planet’s biodiversity.”

Steve Zack, WCS coordinator of bird conservation, concluded, “Asia contains a spectacular concentration of bird life, but is also under sharply increasing threats ranging from large scale development projects to illegal hunting. Further work is needed to better understand the distribution and ecology of this exciting newly described species to determine its conservation needs.”

Some 1.5 million people live in Phnom Penh, so maybe on quiet mornings people there have actually heard the bird singing, but didn’t consider the species. The bird has different songs. Here’s one that sounds a bit like a cell phone ring.

Image credit: Ashish John/WCS

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