Wednesday, August 18, 2004

New bird species found

A new species of flightless bird has been discovered living on a tiny island in the northern Philippines where the inhabitants formerly ate them, scientists and birdwatchers said yesterday.

This picture released yesterday shows what bird experts say is a new bird species found in the remote northern Philippine island of Calayan. Christened the Calayan Rail, the bird with its bright and orange-led legs and beak is believed to be only found in the Philippines. PHOTO: AFP

The bird, named the "Calayan Rail", is the size of a small crow and has dark brown plumage and bright orange-red legs and beak, said Carl Oliveros, who helped lead the joint Filipino-British expedition that found it.

The researchers had been doing an inventory of wildlife in Calayan, which is one of a volcanic chain of islands off the main Philippine island of Luzon and can only be reached by boat, for weeks before finding the creature.

Filipino wildlife biologist Carmela Espanola made the discovery in May when she saw a group of unfamiliar birds foraging in the undergrowth as she was walking through the rainforest.

Islanders said the bird was known as "piding" and that they had even caught it for food in the past but they were unaware it was a previously unclassified species, according to Oliveros.

The new species is "apparently not under immediate threat," Oliveros said, but its limited distribution makes it vulnerable to habitat loss and predators introduced to the island such as cats and rats.

Oliveros told AFP his group, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, had checked with international experts at Birdlife, and learned that this species had never been recorded before.

Related to the far more common Moorhen, rails are a type of ground-feeding, ground-nesting birds with straight, pointed bills.

Oliveros said the expedition gave the bird the scientific name of Gallirallus calayanensis because they wanted its island habitat to get more attention.

One specimen of the bird has been sent to the National Museum, he added.

Birdlife International said on its website that the new bird was most similar in appearance to the Okinawa Rail from the Japan's Ryukyu Islands to the northeast, although there were differences in voice and colour.

Oliveros said the two birds were likely to be closely related as they were both found in the east Asian region.

Birdlife added that the expedition team would do further research on the bird's habitat and numbers, while working with the community to minimise threats and protect the forest.

The government's Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said Calayan was not listed under the official protected wildlife areas but the discovery of the new bird species might help in efforts to have the area covered as well.

Eighteen of the 20 living species of flightless rail are considered threatened, and the majority of rail species which have become extinct since 1600 were also flightless, Birdlife added.

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