Five species of songbird and five more subspecies have been discovered by scientists for the first time in mountainous areas of Indonesia.
The newly described bird species, named after the islands where they were discovered, are the Peleng fantail, the Peleng leaf warbler, the Taliabu grasshopper warbler, the Taliabu myzomela and the Taliabu leaf warbler. They are small songbirds characterised by their unique and unusual sounds.
Discovering this many new species in one go from such a small area “really is quite astounding”, says Simon Mitchell at the University of Kent, UK, who wasn’t involved with the work. Some of the more colourful species were already known to locals, but others, such as the Taliabu grasshopper warbler, had been missed because they sound more like insects than birds.
“I was definitely very surprised,” says Frank Rheindt at the National University of Singapore, who discovered the birds in collaboration with Dewi Prawiradilaga at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and colleagues.
Rheindt says he first heard some of the songbirds hours or even days before he finally saw them. This was the case for the Taliabu grasshopper warbler, which, according to Rheindt, sounds like a cricket.
“When I heard it, I was aware that it was a type of grasshopper warbler, but it sounded very different from the ones that I knew,” says Rheindt. “I had a hunch that this would be a new species, but it took me a week or more to see them for the first time.”
“Some of these newly described bird species and subspecies are already endangered,” says Rheindt. The Taliabu grasshopper warbler is particularly threatened, as its habitat in the mountaintops of Taliabu is shrinking. But the discovery of these birds means efforts can now begin to protect them.
“In order to protect species, we need to know of their existence,” says Per Alström at Uppsala University in Sweden. Today, many species probably go extinct before we even become aware of them, says Alström.
Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aax2146