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New owl species discovered in the Philippines

Two new owl species have been described in the Philippines, reports Inquirer News.

The species were discovered after years of research by ornithologists who analyzed the calls of what was originally thought to be a single species of owl, the Philippine hawk-owl (Ninox philippensis), which is now known to represent seven closely-related species.

“More than 15 years ago, we realized that new subspecies of Ninox hawk-owls existed in the Philippines,” said Pam Rasmussen of Michigan State University, who is the lead author of the Journal of Asian Ornithology’s Forktail paper that describes the new species. “But it wasn’t until last year that we obtained enough recordings that we could confirm that they were not just subspecies, but two new species of owls.”

Two new species of owls have been discovered in the Philippines. Top left: Cebu Hawk owl. Bottom right: Camiguin Hawk owl. Courtesy of Oriental Bird Club: original painting by John Gale.

The first owl species, the Camiguin Hawk-owl (Ninox leventisi), is found only on Camiguin Sur, a small island off the coast of northern Mindanao. The second species is called the Cebu Hawk-owl (Ninox rumseyi). It was originally thought to be extinct due to widespread deforestation on the island of Cebu.

“This species [the Cebu Hawk-owl] is possibly endangered. It can only be found in small patches of forests in Cebu,” biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI) was quoted as saying by Inquirer News.

Other hawl-owls formerly classified under the Luzon Hawk Owl (Ninox philippensis) but now elevated to species status include the Mindoro Hawk Owl (Ninox mindorensis), the Romblon Hawk Owl (Ninox spilonota), the Mindanao Hawk Owl (Ninox spilocephala) and the Sulu Hawk Owl (Ninox reyi).

The researchers also announced a revision of the Philippine Scops Owl, elevating three owls formerly considered subspecies to species status: the Luzon lowland Scops-Owl (Otus megalotis), Negros or West Visayan Scops owl (Otus nigrorum) and the Mindanao lowland scops-owl (Otus everetti).

The Philippines have lost roughly 90 percent of its primary forest cover due to logging and agricultural expansion.


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