Scientists have been spending the last few decades looking for an incredibly elusive bird species last seen in the 1980s. A new research finds that they could have spent all those years looking for a non-existent bird species, as the so-called Liberian Greenbul may simply be a variant of an already identified bird species.

Elusive Or Non-Existent?

An extremely rare bird species, the Liberian Greenbul, may have tricked scientists over the last couple of decades as the species may not even exist. By that, it means that the bird does technically exist, but not as a new species. If so, the bird may not have been as elusive as previously thought.

In the early 1980s, the supposed Liberian Greenbul was spotted in the forests of West Africa. The bird spotted was strikingly similar to the already named Icterine Greenbul except for the white markings on its feathers. After nine more sightings of the bird, a single specimen was captured in 1984 and a new species was named.

Because of the civil wars, scientists could not return to the Liberian forest for 25 years, and although further trips were made to the sighting area in 2010 and 2013, no sign of the bird was found. Because of these circumstances, only a single specimen of the Liberian Greenbul has ever been collected and it remained to be one of the world's lesser known bird species. In fact, up until 2016, the bird was categorized as Critically Endangered.

No Longer The World's Most Elusive Songbird?

Under these circumstances, experts began to wonder whether the elusive bird truly is a separate species or perhaps a mere variant of an already classified bird species. As such, researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland conducted a DNA analysis of the Icterine Greenbul and the single Liberian Greenbul specimen.

Analysis reveals no significant genetic differences between the two birds, suggesting that they are, in fact, the same bird, except perhaps the supposed Liberian Greenbul as it grew developed the unusual feather pattern due to a nutritional deficiency. The findings are even more relevant as previous analyses of other greenbul species show significant genetic differences between the different species.

With this evidence, it's entirely possible that the bird species scientists have been looking for over the last 30 years has been right in front of them the whole time.

"We can't say definitively that the Liberian Greenbul is the same bird as the Iceterine Greenbul but we have presented enough evidence that makes any other explanation seem highly unlikely," said Martin Collinson of the University of Aberdeen, lead author of the paper describing the Liberian Greenbul's taxonomic status and which has been published in the Journal of Ornithology.

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