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Science Welcomes New Bird Species from Indonesia

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The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher is a newly-recognized species of bird, first discovered in Indonesia more than 15 years ago.

Muscicapa sodhii is a streaked flycatcher possessing a unique mottled throat, as well as short wings.

The bird species, previously unknown to science, was familiar to some local residents. However, it was not until 1997 that people first took notice that the birds did not look like other winged creatures in the region. The strange animals exhibited a different body structure to other birds, and also possessed a unique call, higher in pitch than that of other birds in the region.

Ding Li Yong, a PhD student studying in the Fenner School of Environment & Society at the Australian National University (ANU) first came across members of the species when a hunter presented the researcher with several collected specimens. These were soon identified as belonging to a species not yet recognized by biologists.

The Sulawesi streaked flycatcher was found to have shorter wings and tail than other flycatchers, along with a more angled beak. Plumage on the animals was found to be different than other birds, and genetic analysis confirmed the identification of the creatures as a unique species. Study of the DNA of the birds reveals they are only distantly related to the gray-streaked flycatcher with which they were originally confused. Their closest relatives appear to be M. dauurica siamensis, or the Asian brown flycatcher.

"Considering that 98 percent of the world's birds have been described, finding a new species is quite rare. And despite being a globally important avian hotspot, Sulawesi has largely gone unstudied by ornithologists," J. Berton C. Harris, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton, said.

When the birds were first spotted in the Indonesian forest, most ornithologists believed the avian creatures were gray-streaked flycatchers, or Muscicapa griseisticta.

Harris and his team traveled to central Sulawesi in 2011 and 2012 to find the little-studied bird, in an expedition funded by the National Geographic. After several weeks of camping, the researchers found several of the elusive birds nesting near the town of Baku Bakulu.

The habitat of the birds has been radically altered by a large cacao plantation, which does not seem to be adversely affecting the flycatcher population. Investigators believe this resilience provides evidence the species is not in danger of extinction.

"The discovery of this previously unknown bird demonstrates once again how much we have yet to learn about the biodiversity of this planet and, especially, the biodiversity of the tropics," David Wilcove, faculty adviser to Harris at Princeton University, stated in a press release.

The newly-recognized flycatcher was profiled in the online journal PLOS One.

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