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New Owl Species Gives A Hoot For Science

posted 15 Feb 2013, 08:33 by Mpelembe   [ updated 15 Feb 2013, 08:34 ]

Scientists and bird-lovers are celebrating the announcement of a new owl species on the island of LombokIndonesia. The Rinjani Scops-owl was discovered in 2003 but has only now been identified as a new species, thanks to its unique voice.

LOMBOK, WEST NUSA TENGGARA PROVINCE, INDONESIA  (PLOS ONE) -  It was the sound of its distinctive hoot that provided the clue to scientists that Rinjani Scops-owl (Otus Jolandae) was indeed, a previously undescribed species.

The bird looks very similar to a related species, the Mollucan Scops-owl and remained undiscovered until 2003. But then researchers from Sweden and the United States on a field trip to Mount Rinjani on the island of Lombok, heard a distinctive vocalisation, coming from the bird they assumed was the Mollucan variety. They recorded the hoots and, after a verification process lasting ten years, they have published their findings in the journal PLoS One, positively identifying the bird as a new species.

Burung Indonesia, Indonesian partner of conservation group Birdlife International, has welcomed the new discovery.

"The species was first categorized in 1896 but since 2003 experts found and identified this one was different from Otus Magicus, Moluccan Scops Owl, species that can be found in Moluccas and Nusa Tenggara," said Burung Indonesia's analyst, Hanom Bashari.

"(Rinjani Scops-Owl) was smaller, it plumage also has different colours, it also sings different song from Otus Magicus," said Bashari

Bashari says the researchers found the birds in the foothills of the mountain in Nusa Tenggara Province. Their belief in having discovered a new species was reinforced when

they played recordings of the Moluccan Scops-owl back into the forest. The Rinjani owl did not respond, but when the scioentists played recordings of the Rinjani owl, the bird returned the calls and approached the loudspeakers transmitting them.

The newly discovered species is the island's only endemic owl.

Indonesia is home to 1596 species of birds out of approximately 10,000 species worldwide. But Bashari says 126 are on the brink of extinction, mainly because of habitat loss.

Bashari says the Rinjani Scops-owl discovery gives added importance to the need to protect its habitat and the Rinjani National Park