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New bird species discovered in Cambodia’s largest city

A previously unknown species of bird has been found hiding in plain sight after scientists photographed what was thought to be more abundant species at a construction site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capitol and largest city. Subsequent analysis revealed the species to be distinct.

Known as the Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), the new bird is one of only two species endemic to Cambodia, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the group whose researcher Ashish John snapped the first pictures of the bird.

“The modern discovery of an undescribed bird species within the limits of a large populous city — not to mention 30 minutes from my home — is extraordinary,” said Simon Mahood, a WCS scientist who described the species — together with researchers from WCS, BirdLife International, the University of Kansas, Louisiana State University, and the Sam Veasna Centre — in a special online early-view issue of the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Forktail. “The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations.”

Male Cambodian tailorbird
Male Cambodian tailorbird

Female Cambodian tailorbird
Female Cambodian tailorbird. Photos by Ashish John/WCS.

Despite living on the edge of an urban area, the Cambodian tailorbird escaped detection due to its dense scrub habitat.

The authors say the species is under threat due to declining habitat from agricultural and urban expansion. They recommend classifying it as “Near Threatened” under the IUCN’s Red List.

“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,” said co-author Jonathan C. Eames of BirdLife International in a statement.

CITATION: S. P. MAHOOD et al. A new species of lowland tailorbird (Passeriformes: Cisticolidae: Orthotomus) from the Mekong floodplain of Cambodia FORKTAIL 29 (2013): 1–14

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